BQ 8-packs and Rene Herse Book for $50

Everybody needs a good read right now! We all know what to do to keep ourselves and others safe. We all know what is going on in the world. There is a time when it’s important to turn off our screens, make a cup of tea, and enjoy a good read.

To supply you with reading material, we’re offering a big discount on our most popular literature. For a limited time, you can order 8- and 9-packs of Bicycle Quarterly and/or our 424-page book ‘Rene Herse • The Bikes • The Builder • The Riders,’ for $ 50 each. Either will give you many hours of reading enjoyment.

The Rene Herse book takes you into a world when bicycles were not just a mere pastime, but a way of life. Herse started making bikes during World War II, when life in Paris under the German occupation was very difficult. You’ll be inspired by the resilience of Herse and his riders, who organized rides and races, who helped each other, and who did not forget that staying healthy and positive is important when life becomes difficult.

Beautiful studio photos allow you to examine the details of the bikes from the ‘Magician of Levallois.’ The reminiscences of Herse’s daughter Lyli, Herse’s team riders and customers, and his employees bring the story to life. It’s a fascinating tale, illustrated with hundreds of professional photos from the Herse family archives. Your biggest problem will be to savor it slowly, rather than read it all in one setting.

There’s less of a risk of running out of reading material with the past editions of Bicycle Quarterly. Some of the early editions are out of print, but you can still get close to 4500 pages of technical articles, history, inspiring rides and all the other great contents readers enjoy in Bicycle Quarterly.

We’re now offering 8-packs of BQ past editions for $50. Choose among our list or select the ‘Surprise Me!’ option: You’ll get a selection of the BQ team’s favorite editions, and we’ll include one extra magazine for a total of 9.

Our favorites include the Jack Taylor Special (BQ 28) that takes you right into the bicycle scene of post-war Britain…

… and the feature about mtb champion Jacquie Phelan and her partner Charlie Cunningham – of roller-cam and aluminum frame fame (BQ 29)…

… and the incredible ride across the 13,000 ft (4,000 m) Paso de Cortèz in Mexico (BQ 56).

Every Bicycle Quarterly has many inspiring stories. We take you into the workshops of the world’s greatest craftspeople and bring you stories and images that you won’t find anywhere else.

If you want even more reading material, we’re also offering the ‘First 50 editions of BQ for just $ 220… These are the first 50 available editions – many of the earliest BQs are now sold out and have become treasured collector’s pieces.

When we reorganized our warehouse, we found a few – 6, to be exact – copies of the wonderful Japanese book on Alex Singer. These were damaged in shipping, so they aren’t pristine, but this is probably your last chance anywhere in the world to get a copy of this rare and beautiful book.

And if you add a Bicycle Quarterly subscription to your order (or any tire/crank/brake order with Rene Herse Cycles), we’ll ship your first magazine in the box with the order, so you don’t have to wait for our regular mailing. We’ll also do the regular mailings more frequently than usual, because we know that a good read is more important than ever right now.

More information:

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What We Ride (Part 1): Mark’s 6-Hands

Editor’s Note: We’ve been thinking about our role in the response to Covid-19. Here is what we can do: If there is a way we can positively influence the situation – like advocating social distancing and wearing face masks before these practices had widespread support – it’s our responsibility do so. If we can do something to help directly, we will also act: We are working with our suppliers to make masks. And we also realize that the relentless (and mostly bad) news is taking a toll. One thing we can do is inspire our readers. We’ll try to remind you (and ourselves) that there is a beautiful world out there, waiting to be explored. We’re all in this together – let’s stay strong and positive!

And with that, we’ll start a mini-series of posts about the bikes of the BQ Team. We all love testing the latest wonder machines, the featherweight carbon bikes and the gleaming customs straight from NAHBS, but these are the bikes we’ve bought with our own money (or built with our own hands). These are the bikes we ride when we head out, whether it’s a fast spin around the North End of Lake Washington or a multi-day adventure to explore the forgotten passes of the Cascade Mountains. We ride these bikes because they work best for us. Continue Reading →

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Calling for some real innovation!

April 1, 2020: This is the time of year when we take a break from the daily news and look at areas where real progress is possible in bicycle design. Forget marginal gains – today we’re looking for revolutionary ideas!

The industry likes to crow about disc brakes and carbon frames, but when you really think about it, bikes have not evolved much at all since the 1890s. The very first Paris-Brest-Paris was won on a bike similar to the Humber above, and yet most of the Humber’s features have been carried over almost unchanged to the latest ‘high-tech wonders’! Continue Reading →

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Everybody needs a good read now!

Sometimes, it’s good to take a break from the news, turn off our screens, and immerse ourselves in a good read. Now this need is more urgent than ever, and so we’re preparing a second mailing of the new Bicycle Quarterly this week – sooner than originally planned.

Before you even open the Spring 2020 BQ, you’ll be amazed by an amazing bicycle tour of the Peruvian Andes on the cover. Karen Yung’s words and Donalrey Nieva’s stunning photos take you to remote roads in that far-away place – a perfect way to keep our dreams alive.

Equally inspiring is Paulette Porthault’s incredible life story. An active cyclist for 70 years, she rode for the great constructeurs Barra, Narcisse, Herse and Routens. She won the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race during the war. And she never stopped smiling!

Those are just two of the great stories in this exciting edition. Click here to subscribe today, and we’ll dispatch your copy of this exciting edition without delay. Thank you!

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Covid-19 Response: Making Face Masks

In contradicting what we’ve been taught until now – that face masks are not useful – I fully expect this post to be controversial. But too much is at stake, so please read on with an open mind.

The good news from Seattle is that our current lockdown seems to be working. New infections appear to be leveling off. It’s too early to tell whether this will last, but it’s encouraging: We aren’t powerless. We can change the trajectory of this pandemic. Unfortunately, the situation is more difficult in many places, and our thoughts go out to all who are affected. It’s a scary time! Continue Reading →

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Keeping our employees safe

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Yesterday, Washington State finally issued an order for everybody to stay at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. It’s something most of us wanted to see much sooner, and we’ve been acting for several weeks as if it had been in place already.

Bicycle repair facilities and companies who supply them – which includes Rene Herse Cycles – are exempt from the shut-down, so we’ll continue to operate. However, that does not mean we’ll act irresponsibly. There is too much at stake here, both for our employees and the community at large.

To keep everybody safe, we have adjusted our work schedules so that no two employees work at the same time in our office or warehouse. None of our equipment and tools are shared any longer. We’ve even split up our bathrooms. Basically, this means that our employees are as safe at work as they would be at home.

All these changes mean that our operations have become more complicated and time-consuming. Some things are barely affected. We are still shipping orders and producing Bicycle Quarterly as before. We’re still offering warranty support and processing returns as long as we can receive mail. Even in these difficult times, we continue to stand 100% behind everything we sell.

Other things are becoming more difficult. Product development has slowed. Shipments from suppliers are held up, so some things may be out of stock soon. And we cannot offer individual tech support any longer, because this requires in-person communication at the office to find accurate and useful answers.

This means that we’re no longer able to respond to customer service emails – except those submitted via our Returns and Warranty forms. And please don’t try to send us your questions via Instagram, Facebook or the Letters-to-the-Editor page on the Bicycle Quarterly web site. It’s simply not possible to respond and maintain a safe working environment.

That doesn’t mean you are left out in the cold when it comes to tech support for our products. We’ve expanded the support pages on our web site, so that they cover most common – and many uncommon – questions. You’ll find illustrated step-by-step instructions, frequently asked questions, tips and links to blog posts. Use the ‘Support’ tab in our main menu (above) to get started.

We hope you’ll find these resources useful. And we appreciate your understanding while we continue to adjust to this extraordinary situation. Thank you, and please be careful and safe!

Top photo: Technical inspection at the 1947 Concours de Machines technical trials (Rene Herse Archives).

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Rene Herse Sample Sale

Let’s face it: Life isn’t the same as it was just two weeks ago. We’re all in this together, and we’ve been encouraged how everybody has been pulling together to face this challenge.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we’ve thought about what we could do to help. Most of us still ride our bikes – solo – for transportation, exercise, and to keep our bodies and spirits healthy. Most of us still need bike parts…

We have a sizable stash of parts that haven’t been used, but that we don’t want to sell as brand-new, either. These are parts that we’ve used for photo shoots or for testing tire fit on rims. Some are prototypes that don’t have the right stickers – we commission the molds first and make a small run of tires for testing, long before the new stickers are finalized. We always make more prototypes than we need for the actual testing, just in case.

Usually, we keep these components for our own bikes, but we’re now offering them to everybody in our Sample Sale.

Update 3/25: The Sample Sale has ended. Thank you. Continue Reading →

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We’re open and staying safe

Many customers and readers have asked and worried about us. This post is to reassure everybody that we’re doing fine at Rene Herse Cycles. For the time being, Seattle is relying on everybody’s best efforts of social distancing and staying home, and there is no mandatory lockdown. Fortunately, people are taking it seriously. I went for a walk today and saw a couple talk to the owner of a classic car – while keeping a distance of 8 feet.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we’ve instated policies to ensure the safety of our employees and others in our community. Where possible, our team is telecommuting. The other employees have staggered their shifts, so there is minimal contact. It’s a bit lonely to be working alone in the office and warehouse, but it’s the best way right now.

We appreciate your support in these difficult times. Thank you! Continue Reading →

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FMB Tubulars

Even in these troubled times, most of us continue to ride our bikes, at least here in North America. We’ve been encouraged that even during the ‘shelter-in-place’ in the San Francisco Bay Area, solo bike rides continue to be permitted.

Over the last year, we’ve worked on re-introducing FMB tubulars to the North American market. FMB tubulars perfectly complement to our Rene Herse clinchers. They feature similar no-nonsense tread patterns for road, dirt and mud. FMB’s three casings all offer supple performance, but they vary in their degrees of sidewall protection. Continue Reading →

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Spring 2020 Bicycle Quarterly

It’s always exciting when a new Bicycle Quarterly goes to print. After months of work, we finally see the magazine take shape on paper, and soon our readers will enjoy their copies. We’re doubly excited about the Spring 2020 edition with its mix of engaging stories. Karen Yung reports from a bikepacking trip to the Andes of Peru – the cover shows one of her fellow adventuresses. Continue Reading →

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Ted King’s Tips for Choosing Gravel Tires

Editor’s Note: ‘Gravel’ means different things in different regions, from the smooth dirt roads of Vermont to the Flint Hills of Kansas. Few riders have as much experience riding and racing all over the world as two-times Dirty Kanza winner Ted King. Here is how the ‘King of Gravel’ chooses his tires.

It’s only in the relatively recent rearview mirror that we see cyclists steering their frankenbikes off the beaten path. “Gravel” as a name wasn’t a genre of riding yet; this was merely riding a bike on pavement and then riding a bike off pavement. Most riders were on two-wheeled amalgamated collections of misfit parts, trying to create what did not yet exist: Riders took the best parts of road and mountain bikes and combined them in a single bike. That was the start of “gravel” as we know it, and it’s quickly becoming something of a rarity in this day and age.

With the burgeoning support of the entire cycling industry behind gravel, and with a hyper-focus on components designed specifically for every style of gravel riding, my inbox is continually filled with questions about my choice for bike parts. Specifically, questions revolving around where the rubber meets the (off) road are the most common. So in an attempt to take a proactive approach, I’m excited to offer Ted’s Tips for Choosing Tires. Continue Reading →

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Memories of Summer: Lake Bessemer

As last summer’s 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris was approaching, my training went into high gear. That meant hill intervals and speedwork, but also occasional longer rides to maintain my endurance – and have fun!

When Mark and Steve suggested a weekend ride up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, we came up with an idea: They would take the bus to Mount Si, a popular hiking destination. I’d ride out there and meet them. I decided to add the climb to Lake Bessemer for some extra training. Continue Reading →

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Enve and Zipp hookless rims and Rene Herse tires

Rene Herse tires are safe to use on hookless rims from Enve and Zipp – even when mounted tubeless. Over the last year, we’ve worked with the engineers from both companies to ensure the full compatibility of our tires with their rims.

Tubeless tires are an emerging technology. They’ve been around for decades on cars and motorcycles, and they’ve taken over mountain biking in a storm, too. These are all relatively stiff tires that run at relatively low pressures.

Adapting the technology to road, all-road and gravel bikes has posed special challenges. The supple high-performance tires we love have less casing stiffness, and they run at somewhat higher pressures. (Few cars, motorcycles and mountain bikes exceed 2.5 bar/35 psi.) Both factors combine to create much greater forces at the tire/rim interface than on other vehicles. Continue Reading →

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My PBP Bike: The Frame

When I asked readers which part of my bike for last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris they wanted to hear more about, the answer was: “Everything.” So we’ll make a series of short posts about the parts of the bike. I’ve already talked about the centerpull brakes here. Today, let’s look at the frame.

It’s no secret that I love my titanium Firefly. I’ve also enjoyed some great rides on carbon bikes. I wanted a very lightweight bike, and I seriously thought about getting a titanium frame or adapting a carbon U.P.P.E.R. to create a randonneur bike. In the end, I opted for steel because it’s easier to fabricate a frame that accepts all the things I need for adventures like Paris-Brest-Paris: fenders, lights, a rack, a pump… Continue Reading →

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A Winter Ride

When the forecast predicted a rare break in Seattle’s relentless rain, Ryan Hamilton and I quickly decided: “Let’s head to Index!” It’s a favorite winter ride that spears deep into the Cascade Mountains, but stays in the valleys (mostly), so it remains rideable while the high passes are covered with snow.

This time, we added a challenge: “Let’s try to get back before dark!” We knew this was ambitious for a 150-mile (240 km) ride with more than 6,000 ft (1,830 m) of elevation gain. Winter days in the Pacific Northwest aren’t exactly long, and we didn’t want to leave too early in case there was ice on the roads. We met at 7, just before dawn, and rode out of Seattle at a good clip. Continue Reading →

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12-Speed Rene Herse Cranks

We’re excited to announce that our ramped-and-pinned chainrings are 12-speed compatible. We knew that 12-speed was coming when we developed our 11-speed rings, so we tried to anticipate the requirements, so that our chainrings would be compatible with 12-speed as well.

Now we’ve completed our testing, and we’re happy to report that all our ’11-speed’ chainrings also work well with 12-speed chains. Continue Reading →

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Lael Wilcox: The Mount Lemmon Challenge

I love the scenes in movies and the chapters in books when the hero is training and developing and working to become great; when you see that drive and ambition to face sacrifices and to improve. You see cold early mornings and sweat and pain become results. I want to live that story. I want to climb that mountain.

The beauty of climbing is that you won’t just have one experience. There will be fierce moments of riding into a driving wind, of your lungs flaming and your quads disintegrating to cinders, and then there will be absolute calm. The longer you stay out there, the more you’ll experience. Continue Reading →

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David’s Bike for Paris-Brest-Paris

When David Wilcox signed up to ride in last summer’s Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km (750-mile) brevet, he wondered about which of his bikes – he has quite a stable! – would be best for this long ride. Comfort is paramount if you’re going to spend 45+ hours in the saddle, but so is speed: The faster you go, the more you can rest without having to worry about time limit of 80 hours.* Continue Reading →

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James Bay Descent – The Movie

When Ted King, Ryan Atkins, Eric Batty and Buck Miller rode more than 600 km in northern Ontario last winter, it was a real adventure – and they raised money for a local charity. We were happy to be involved in a small way – we supplied the entire team with Berthoud saddles, so they’d be comfortable during their long days on the road.

Now Eric has made a short movie about their incredible ride. Enjoy!

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UD Racks for (almost) every bike

Handlebar bags are one of the best places to carry luggage on your bike. Right in front of you, the contents are easy to reach. A handlebar bag doesn’t increase your frontal area, so it’s aero, and it doesn’t get caught on obstacles when you ride through tight spaces. Handlebar bags have more capacity than most other bikepacking bags, and there’s none of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ effect you get with rear bags, especially when climbing out of the saddle.

Handlebar bags work best when they are supported by a rack. That way, the bag sits as low as possible and doesn’t swing from side to side – both important for good handling. Ideally, your bike’s front-end geometry is designed to accommodate the extra load, but many riders enjoy their handlebar bags on a wide variety of bikes. Continue Reading →

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Myth 19: 700C Wheels Are Faster

When we started this series to celebrate Bicycle Quarterly’s 15th anniversary, we thought we’d eventually run out of myths. But it seems that new ones are created as fast as we can debunk old ones. The latest is “700C wheels roll faster than 650B.”

This is stated with the same certitude as the old “narrow tires are faster” – and it’s just as wrong. Simply put, there is no evidence that 700C wheels roll faster than 650B (or 26″), and much data to show that they all roll at essentially the same speed. Continue Reading →

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Predictions for the 2020s

Happy New Year and welcome to a new decade, the 2020s!

Ten years ago (above), Bicycle Quarterly predicted that wide tires would become commonplace, that all-road bikes would replace racing bikes as the most popular genre, and that riders would soon venture off the beaten path and onto gravel. All that seemed unlikely in 2010, and we had to wait more than half-way through the decade for these predictions to become reality.

Now we’re heading into the 2020s, and I’m thinking about what the next 10 years will bring. As in 2010, I don’t claim to be able to see into the future; it’s just what makes sense… Continue Reading →

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Bicycle Quarterly Past Editions

The most common comment we get from Bicycle Quarterly readers is “I wish the magazine came out more often.” Publishing more often would be nice, but it’s not possible: It takes three months to create each edition. With more than 100 pages of stories – all original contents and hardly any ads – each Bicycle Quarterly is a small book. Four books a year is all our small team can publish. Continue Reading →

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Rethinking Packaging

Since we’ve started Rene Herse Cycles in 2011, we’ve been working on reducing our environmental impact. We were among the first to use custom-designed cardboard boxes with inserts that hold our cranks securely. That has been part of our commitment to reduce our impact – while making sure that our parts reach our customers all over the world in perfect condition. Continue Reading →

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Jikkoku Pass in Autumn: Day 2

In the last post, I talked about riding on the old road across Jikkoku Pass.

Where to go on the second day? We haven’t quite decided yet. The typhoon is getting closer, and we don’t know what the weather will be like. If it’s just raining, it’s OK, but this time, a huge typhoon is forecast, which may make riding in the mountains dangerous because of landslides. We will adjust our plans as the day develops. Continue Reading →

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Jikkoku Pass in Autumn

Usually, October in Japan is a month of good weather, with an occasional typhoon that needs to be considered when planning a cyclotouring trip. But when I visited Japan this autumn, October saw so many typhoons and rain. It’s very unusual.

We did not want to miss the short window of good weather as we planned a cyclotouring trip. Mr. Yo had time off and could join us. We decided to go on a two-day trip together. Where to go? Continue Reading →

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Frank Berto: We will miss you!

Word has just reached us that Frank Berto passed away last Sunday, aged 90. Berto was one of the most inquisitive technical minds in the cycling world and a long-time contributor first to Bicycling magazine and then to Bicycle Quarterly.

An avid cyclist since his childhood in the 1940s, Frank obtained a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1958. He worked in the oil industry as an instrumentation and oil measurement consultant. On the side, he authored more than 100 technical articles. His book The Dancing Chain traces the history of derailleurs in all its twists and turns.

Frank was one of the first to (re)discover that derailleurs shifted well if the chain gap (distance between cassette cog and upper derailleur pulley) was constant in all gears. He also measured the tire drop of dozens of tires and summarized the results in his famous tire pressure chart that remains the best guidance for inflating your tires to this day. Frank had little time for hero worship, but he appreciated companies like SunTour and the mid-century French derailleur makers who made innovative derailleurs that shifted well.

When I started Bicycle Quarterly 17 years ago, Frank sent his check for a subscription with a note. With typical frankness, he wrote: “I give you two years max. I’ve seen them all come and go, On the Wheel, the Bicycle Trader… In the mean time, I’ll help you as much as I can.” That help included xeroxing articles from his extensive library and reviewing the technical articles we wrote. He was excited when we built on his research and took it to the next step. When BQ published Aldo Ross’ article on the fiendishly complicated Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix derailleur, Frank, the expert on derailleurs, called me and exclaimed: “Finally, I understand how that thing works!”

During our frequent phone conversations, Frank was gruff, yet warm and charming. He was not just a fount of knowledge, but also fun. We owe him a lot! Our condolences go out to Frank’s wife Connie and his family.

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Back in Stock: Maware Bar Tape, Monkey Bananas, Chainstays and more

At Rene Herse Cycles, we know that our customers rely on their bikes – for transportation, for sport and for fun. So we try to keep all our products in stock at all times. Nothing is more frustrating than needing a new tire or part for a big ride and having to hunt around for left-over stocks, because the maker or distributor is out of stock. And yet, it can happen: Demand suddenly increases, or there are delays in manufacturing. And then an item is out of stock. We just received a big shipment from Japan, and our local production right here in Seattle also has caught up, so we’ve got a lot of parts back in stock.

I got many questions about my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris. One of the most asked was about the handlebar tape. Maware leather tape is by far my favorite. Made from pigskin, it’s thin, and it wraps smoothly. It’s soft to the touch and has just the right amount of grippiness. Whenever I moved my hands during the long 56-hour ride and felt the luxurious tape, I smiled. It’s one of the little things that make the miles pass quickly. Continue Reading →

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Riding the Un-Ride with Ted King

Today’s Un-Ride, as Ted named it, was a blast. It was wet, it was tough, and it was great. We just rode hard and enjoyed the company of the group. There was no posing for the cameras – and it was too dark for good photos anyhow – but the few pics I managed to snap while keeping my heart rate close to the max probably tell the story just fine.

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Job Opening at Rene Herse Cycles

We’ve got a job opening at Rene Herse Cycles. Are you dreaming of working on beautiful bikes, assembling dazzling cranks and brakes, and chatting about amazing rides all day long? The reality is not quite as glamorous, but we’ve got a good team, good compensation and benefits, plus the potential for long-term, stable employment.

As Operations Assistant, you’d run our warehouse, keep track of inventory, assemble the afore-mentioned cranks and brakes and ship them to our customers, plus update our web site and Bicycle Quarterly subscriber database. It’s a great job for somebody who enjoys doing many tasks and wearing many hats, yet wants stable employment (40 hours/week) with full benefits. Click here for a detailed job description.

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How durable are leather saddles?

How durable are leather saddles? It’s a question we often get with respect to the Berthoud saddles we distribute in North America. Especially now that it’s winter here, and often raining. Will a leather saddle be ruined if it’s ridden in the rain?

The answer is a reassuring ‘No.’ There is only one thing to consider: The underside of the saddle should be protected. If the leather gets completely soaked, the saddle top will lose its shape. Continue Reading →

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This Sunday: Ride Tahuya with Ted King

Just a quick reminder that our Un-Meeting-style ride with the ‘King of Gravel’ is this Sunday. The weather forecast is unseasonably good for Seattle – just a slight chance of rain in the morning. Here are the details:

  • When: Sunday, December 8, 2019
  • Where: Seattle Ferry Terminal, 7:35 a.m. ferry to Bremerton
  • What: 80 miles (130 km), paved and gravel (all-paved option)
  • How: Un-Meeting style (everybody is welcome, but it’s not a group ride)

Route sheet, GPS track and more info are in last week’s post. I look forward to riding with many of you on Sunday!

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Winter 2019 Bicycle Quarterly

Adventures in all their forms are the theme of the Winter 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Lael Wilcox and Rugile Kaladyte tour Kyrgystan in preparation of the Silk Road Mountain Race. Three friends attempting a new route on the border between France and Italy. Two riders enter The Japanese Odyssey, a ride so challenging that few participants actually finish it. Even our bike test of the new Crust Canti Lightning Bolt turns into an adventure when a storm moves in as we traverse the Cascade Mountains.

The new Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer – below are the first proofs. Tomorrow we’ll finalize the mailing list. Please subscribe or renew today to be among the first to get your BQ. Thank you!

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Blog Transition is Complete

Thank you for your patience last week while we’ve transitioned the blog to the Rene Herse web site. We’ve moved all the old contents – blog posts and comments – to the new site, so everything continues to be available.

If you’ve bookmarked a blog post, the link no longer works. Replace the old web address and date with ‘www.renehersecycles.com,’ and you’ll be able to find your bookmarked posts. Below are the new links to six of our most popular posts:

Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter to get updated when new posts are published. Use the box on the right side. We won’t use your information for anything else, and it’s easy to unsuscribe if you’re no longer interested.

I hope you’ll continue to enjoy this blog!

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Steel Road Bike Book (Japan)

During a recent trip to Japan, we saw a beautiful book about steel road bikes, published by our friends at Bicycle Club magazine. The cover bike may look familiar to Bicycle Quarterly readers – it’s part of a famous Japanese collection that we featured a few years back. Many consider this bike, built by Toshio Kajiwara, the zenith of Japanese framebuilding – simple and understated, but beautifully crafted.

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Golden Age and Competition Bikes out of print

After a remarkable run over 15 years, our first book, The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles, is now out of print. Published in 2005, The Golden Age was at the start of our fascination with the French constructeurs. It made Rene Herse and Alex Singer household names. If cyclists today admire beautiful fender lines and fully integrated bicycles, it’s in part because of this book.

The Golden Age became a best-seller almost overnight, and our first edition sold out quickly. We published a second edition with Rizzoli, which ensured even wider distribution.

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Ride Tahuya with Ted King

Join us on a ride with Ted King, the ‘King of Gravel’! We’ll head to the Tahuya Hills on some beautiful (and hilly) roads. There’ll be plenty of gravel, as well as an all-paved option.

  • When: Sunday, December 8, 2019
  • Where: Seattle Ferry Terminal, 7:35 a.m. ferry to Bremerton
  • What: 80 miles (130 km), paved and gravel (all-paved option)
  • How: Un-Meeting style (everybody is welcome, but it’s not a group ride)

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Our Blog Has Moved

We are excited to move our blog and integrate it seamlessly with our Rene Herse Cycles web site. This will allow us to create even more exciting content. And now we can link directly between blog posts and support pages. This and other changes will improve your experience as you use this resource. If you subscribed to the old blog, your subscription will automatically move here. (You will get a message from WordPress about this.)

Please bookmark the new site. Better yet, click on the ‘Follow Our Blog’ button to receive a short e-mail when a new post goes up. (It’s easy to unsubscribe by clicking the button again.) Thank you!

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Honing Skills in Cyclocross

When winter snow makes the high roads in the Cascade Mountains impassable, we turn to cyclocross. It’s our preferred winter sport – challenging, fun and a great way to hone our skills for the big summer gravel adventures. The skills of ‘cross are less about jumping across barriers – although that is fun, too – and more about learning the feedback from your tires. Being able to feel how much grip you can lean on is a useful skill for gravel riding. When you push your bike to the limit and beyond, you learn what it feels like when the tire is just before the point where it’ll slip. You’ll also learn how to recover when your bike slides. And if you don’t recover, speeds are slow and the mud is soft…

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Endurance Casings for 700C x 38 and 700C x 55

You asked for it… Many customers requested our Barlow Pass with the Endurance casing. It makes sense – 700C x 38 is a versatile size. If your rides are littered with glass, steel wires or goatheads, the Endurance casing is going to be your friend. You get a tire with much of the speed and comfort of our other Rene Herse tires, yet it’s considerably tougher than the Standard or Extralight casings.

The Antelope Hill is another prime candidate for the Endurance casing. Call it 700C x 55 or 29″ x 2.3″ as you wish – it’s a tire for monstercross and mountain bikes that are ridden on gravel roads (and paved ones, too).

Most of the time, the sheer volume of this tire (and associated low pressure) will ward off sidewall cuts and punctures. Yet by their nature, the Antelopes invite you to take them places you wouldn’t go otherwise. And then the extra protection of the Endurance casing can be great reassurance…

These Rene Herse tires are available with Endurance casings:

  • 650B x 48 Juniper Ridge (knobby)
  • 700C x 38 Barlow Pass
  • 700C x 38 Steilacoom (knobby)
  • 700C x 42 Hurricane Ridge (knobby)
  • 700C x 44 Snoqualmie Pass
  • 700C x 55 Antelope Hill

Quantities of the new models are limited for now, until production catches up with demand. Click here for more information.

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Cost Increases = Price Increases

Unlike most posts, this isn’t one that I enjoy writing… Over the past decade, we’ve seen a period of remarkably stable prices. In fact, it’s been more than five years since our prices have changed across the board – and back then, they went down, because the exchange rate to the Japanese Yen had become more favorable.

Things have changed over the last few years. The trade wars have caught the headlines, but they haven’t affected us directly. Our high-quality products are made in Japan, Germany, France, Taiwan and, of course, the United States – not the countries that have had big tariffs levied on them. However, the trade wars have rippled throughout the world, and they affect us as well: The dollar has lost in value, which increases the cost of the parts we make overseas.

Why not make them in the U.S.? We make many parts locally or in the U.S., but for others, there simply is no domestic manufacturer who can make bicycle tires, forged bike parts, and other high-end components.

The cost of raw materials has also increased due to tariffs and other disruptions. This affects everything from aluminum (used on most of our components) and copper (generator hubs) to rubber (tires), and it’s been substantial.

Our components are made in batches, and our suppliers buy their materials in large quantities, so these cost increases haven’t hit us all at once, but as a steady trickle. For a while, we’ve been able to absorb them. At some point, we have to pass them on to our customers. This means that over the next few months, our prices will increase. It won’t be a huge increase, and it won’t affect all our parts. And for the time being, we’re of course still taking orders at the old prices. We want to give our loyal customers a heads up, so it doesn’t come as a surprise. We hope you’ll understand.

Thank you!

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Rene Herse Cycling Caps

We are really excited about our new cycling caps. They are great to wear under a helmet, or just by themselves.

The quality is superb – as you’d expect, since they are made by Walz, a company known for their high quality. They are made in the USA.

Best of all, the caps are available in two sizes: S/M and L/XL. Because, as you can see above, ‘One Size Fits All’ just isn’t true for many of us.

Click here for more information about our new caps.

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Road.cc Reviews the Juniper Ridge 650B x 48

We like Road.cc, the British web site, because they really ride the products they test. They’ve got a number of testers, and their opinions are refreshingly unbiased and honest. At the end of each test, they ask their reviewers “Would you buy this product?” and “Would you recommend this product to a friend?”

Recently, they reviewed our Juniper Ridge dual-purpose knobbies, and tester Stu Kerton replied “Yes” to both questions. His summary explains why:“The Juniper Ridge has been designed to work just as well on the road as it does off the beaten track. I was sceptical, but to be honest they are pretty good, giving a boost to your average speed on those tarmac sections between the tracks and trails.”

Grip on gravel and in mud impressed him, too: “Cornering on hard-packed gravel, the Junipers had just the right level of grip for the knobbles to dig into the gravel so you could blast round at speed. […] They grip well on soft mud and the tread doesn’t seem to hang onto any dirt either, shedding it before it can become compacted between the knobbles. The only place they did suffer a bit was on wet, sticky chalk, which could clog up the tread.” But then, I suspect that any tire will clog up in that type of sticky mud…

It’s exciting when testers enjoy our tires as much as we do. Rather than tell you more about the test, why not read the full review for yourself at road.cc?

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Why I Choose Centerpull Brakes

When I spec’d my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris (and for our adventures in the Cascade Mountains), I opted for centerpull brakes. I didn’t choose centerpulls out of nostalgia. For the riding I do, they are the best choice.

Why not disc brakes?

It’s undeniable that the best hydraulic disc brakes offer amazing braking power. Isn’t more braking power always better? There is a limit to how much braking power you can use. Once your rear wheel lifts, even with your weight all the way back, you can’t use any extra braking power. A good centerpull brake has just enough power to lift the rear wheel.

If the ultimate braking power is similar, then the choice of brakes comes down to other factors. For me, it’s about the fork rather than the brake itself: Disc brakes feed the braking forces into the left fork blade and flex it backward. If the fork isn’t stiff enough, the bike will self-steer when you brake hard. I once rode a test bike with a Wound Up disc fork that required a quick flick of the handlebars every time I braked hard, to compensate for the fork twist. It became second nature, but many riders might not like this.

Modern disc forks are much stiffer and no longer self-steer. The down side is that this stiffness transmits road shocks that are too big for the tires to absorb. Well-designed steel forks with thin blades flex up to 15 mm (0.6″), just enough to take the edge off these bumps. That’s not just more comfortable, but also faster.

There other reasons why I don’t like disc brakes, but they are relatively minor. One is weight – rotors, calipers and long brake lines all add up (although that can be mitigated somewhat if you use carbon rims.) Discs tend to bite quicker in the rain, but most discs I’ve ridden howled terribly when wet. Discs require more maintenance and care – the hydraulic houses are prone to kinking, and the pads often rub noisily on the rotors, requiring frequent adjustments of the calipers to recenter them. (Thru-axles have helped with that.)

Disc brakes have their place: They are an excellent choice for bikes with very wide tires. They don’t have to reach around the tire, so the brake’s weight and power are independent of tire width. That is why mountain bikes use them. With front suspension, the stiffness of the fork blades is a non-issue. On modern production bikes with wide tires, disc brakes make sense: They are what is available, and they work well. Simply choose the widest tires you can run, and you’ll get plenty of shock absorption.

For custom bikes with moderately wide tires, I think the main reason riders are tempted by discs is simply this: Most rim brakes for wide tires weren’t very good. But those problems can be overcome.

Why not cantilevers?

Our Rene Herse cantilevers are among the lightest brakes in the world. At 75 g per wheel, they weigh far less than most racing brakes. We used them on the J. P. Weigle for the Concours de Machines Technical Trials in France. They brake very well, too – as I could confirm when descending from the mountains in pouring rain during the Concours.

We’re very proud of our Rene Herse cantis, but I still prefer our centerpulls. The inherent drawback of all cantis is the location of the pivots on unsupported section of the (relatively thin) seatstays and fork blades. When you brake, the brake cable pulls upward, which tends to splay the brake posts outward. In addition, the pads are dragged along by the rim, which also tends to twist the brake. On the front, these two factors reinforce each other.

The fork blades twist, and this changes the angle at which the brake pads hit the rim. That is why you toe in the pads, which reduces the effect. But there is still a non-linearity as the pad surface increases as you brake harder.

For most rides, it’s not a huge deal, but when you brake deep into turns during twisty mountain descents, a brake that responds linearly to your input gives more confidence. And in the Cascade Mountains, we have plenty of twisty descents. When curve follows upon curve, when your instincts take over and your bike feels hardwired into your brain, then you want a brake that responds with linear force to your inputs. A brake where each increment of lever pull results in the same incremental increase of braking force.

That is where centerpulls come in. They eliminate the twisting problem by locating the pivots above the rim, where the stays (rear) and fork blades are well-braced. The result: There is no twist, the pad angle doesn’t change, and the brake action is linear and easy to modulate.

Modern racing brakes use the same pivot location – only the upper arms are more complex to eliminate the need for a straddle cable. Many of the best bikes now have direct-mount brakes, where the pivots are part of the frame, which further reduces flex (and weight). When we reintroduced direct-mount centerpull brakes, they were seen as oddballs. Today, they have become the norm.

Straddle cables have fallen from favor because they can cause lost motion. A thick straddle cable, as in the photo above, tends to curve over the straddle cable yoke. When you pull on the brake lever, the first part of the lever travel only pulls the straddle cable straight, without actually slowing you down.

Lever travel limits the power of all brakes: In theory, you could make the brake more powerful by increasing its mechanical advantage, but then the pads travel less for each increment of lever travel. And you can only pull the lever so far until it hits the handlebars. If you are wasting some of the lever travel to pull the straddle cable straight, you have less left over for the actual braking. You have to design your brake with less mechanical advantage – less braking power. And/or you need to set the pads closer to the rim, which increases the chance that they’ll rub if your wheel goes slightly out of true or if your brake goes slightly out of adjustment. (That is why discs tend to rub: They have a lot of mechanical advantage, so the gap between disc and rotor has to be tiny.)

There is a solution:  Use a thinner straddle cable that doesn’t bow. The straddle cable transmits less force than the brake cable, so a thinner cable works fine. (We use a derailleur cable, so replacements are easy to find.) The thinner cable bends smoothly around the straddle cable yoke (above). There is no lost motion when you apply the brake. Without the risk of bottoming out the brake lever, we had the freedom to design the Rene Herse brakes with more mechanical advantage. That way, we get as much brake power as a very good mechanical disc brake.

All the mechanical advantage in the world doesn’t do much if the brake flexes instead of squeezing the pads. Brake flex means less power for slowing the wheel. Most of the flex occurs between the pivots and the pads. This part of the brake twists when the pads are dragged along by the rim. The upper arms can be thin: They are stressed mostly in one plane (up/down). That is why centerpull brakes can be superlight: Their pads are much closer to the pivots than those of old-fashioned sidepull and dual-pivot brakes.

Not all centerpull brakes are created equal. The arms of our Rene Herse centerpulls have been optimized using Finite Element Analysis. We forge the brake arms for optimum strength, so we can make them thinner and lighter than CNC-machined arms. In fact, Rene Herse centerpulls are among the lightest brakes out there.

All our brakes are now available with titanium eyebolts for the pads. The centerpulls weigh just 137 g (per wheel, with pad holders, but without pads*). That is the same as a direct-mount Dura-Ace brake, even though the Rene Herse has room for 42 mm tires and fenders, while the Dura-Ace clears just 28 mm tires (without fenders).

For the titanium version of our brakes, we’re also using a titanium lower bolt for our Straddle Cable Yoke to save further weight. (The upper bolt is always made from super-strong CrMo steel, since it secures the brake cable.) The steel-bolt version of the brake remains available as a more affordable option.

The new custom-made titanium bolts are available separately, too. They are great for attaching bottle cages and fenders. (Please don’t use them on racks, where the full strength of steel bolts is needed!)

Light weight, excellent power, great modulation, low maintenance, and the ability to use flexible fork blades for comfort and speed – those are the reasons why I chose Rene Herse centerpull brakes for my new bike.

Further reading:

* Rather than get into a competition for the lightest (meaning: thinnest) brake pads, we weigh our brakes without pads. That way, we can use thick brake pads that last three times as long as the thin pads of most modern brakes. If you want ultralight pads, you can cut them down (or run well-used pads).

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Why Only Black Tread?

Autumn means colder temperatures and rainy weather, here in the Cascade Mountains and in many parts of the world. More than ever, the grip of our tires is on our minds. Why do all Rene Herse tires have black tread? Colorful treads can look nice, but black rubber offers the best grip.

That is one reason why all car tires today are black. In the early days of motoring, tires were made from natural rubber, which is white or gray. (That is why the famous Michelin man is white…) By the 1910s, it was becoming apparent that white rubber didn’t last well, and tire makers discovered that adding carbon black to the rubber made it last much longer. As a positive side effect, it increased the tire’s grip, too – and it made the tires black. Even today, you can get car tires in many colors, but they are considered a novelty and not intended for daily use, much less for performance driving.

It may come as a surprise that the color of rubber and plastic affects many other properties, too. For example, gray resins are stronger than black or colored varieties. That is why the frames of Berthoud saddles are gray. With rubber, blue appears to be the least durable – which is why the blue hoods for old Mafac brake levers are almost unfindable today. And red backpacks fade far more quickly than other colors…

The reason is simple: Colors are additives, and often, surprisingly large amounts of the colorants are needed to create the color. This often changes the physical properties of the raw material. The black color of tires works the opposite way: Carbon black is an additive chosen for its performance-enhancing properties, and it just happened to change the color to black.

Before we made our Rene Herse tires, we rode tires from many makers. When I was racing in the 1990s, Vittoria introduced their ‘Professional All Weather’ model with softer green rubber on the shoulders. This was supposed to be grippier when leaning the bike into wet corners. It seemed like the perfect tire for Seattle’s infamous rainy season.

We tried the ‘All Weathers,’ and immediately scared ourselves: They seemed to grip fine at first, while we were still riding on the black center tread. Leaning further, grip was lost very suddenly as we transitioned to the green rubber. Then TOUR magazine did one of their famous tire tests. They measured tire grip on wet roads and confirmed that the ‘All Weather’ was less grippy than Vittoria’s standard, all-black tires! We never found out what the Italians were thinking when they developed these tires. I recall a big marketing push with all kinds of colors around that time, but it didn’t last long. Today, all Vittoria tires have black tread again.

Later, we imported the first supple, wide 650B tires from Japan. Made to resemble classic French rubber, the first model was available only in red and white. We loved the supple casings, but we found that in the wet, the white version was noticeably lacking in traction. Riding the red model, we also felt the grip bleed away earlier than we expected. We requested a special run of tires with black tread, and those gripped much better.

Of course, black tread alone isn’t a guarantee for excellent traction. I recall one tire from a small company that would spin when accelerating from a stop on cold, wet (but clean) pavement. Clearly, not all rubber is made equal.

When we first talked to the engineers at the tire factory in Japan about the tires we wanted to make, they showed us many beautiful colors. There was a very attractive tea green… When we asked about the performance, the engineers left no doubt: “Black has the best grip.” What about the colored treads? “It’s all about fashion. It allows small companies to offer tires that are different from the mainstream.”

There is nothing wrong with fashion, but for us, performance is more important. On the steep, twisty descents of the Cascade Mountains, we need tires that grip. And fortunately, Panaracer’s top-level tread rubber is among the grippiest you’ll find anywhere.

Of course, there is much more to making a tire grip than just the tread compound. Our herringbone tread pattern has many ribs that interlock with the road surface. When we tested the herringbone tread back-to-back with slick tires, the difference was very noticeable. A supple casing also grips better because it keeps its tread in contact with the road surface. A stiffer tire will bounce more and have less traction. For our Rene Herse tires, we’ve optimized all these parameters to offer you tires with more grip than just about any other tire – on dry and wet roads.

Even with the best tires, riding in Autumn and Winter requires extra caution. There are many factors that decrease traction when it’s wet and/or cold:

  • Cold rubber is less grippy – your traction is reduced when the temperature drops. This is quite significant, especially once the temperature drops below 10°C (50°F).
  • On wet roads, tread patterns that interlock with the road surface offer the greatest benefits. With the right tires, you can lean quite far into corners (top photo) – if the asphalt is clean.
  • After the first rain, the water mixes with dust, oil and other airborne pollution to form a very slippery surface layer. Use extreme caution when it hasn’t rained in a long time.
  • Your tires stay wet for a while after you ride through water. Remember this when you cross a wet patch on the road: Your tires may still be wet in the next corner, even if the road surface there is dry.
  • Painted traffic markings on the asphalt can be very slippery in the wet. Metal surfaces – grates, manhole covers, railroad tracks, plates covering trenches at construction sites – are even worse. Avoid them if you can. If you must ride over them, straighten your bike before you reach them, so you aren’t leaning while you are on the slippery surface.
  • Scan the road for shiny oil that has dripped from cars with leaky crankcases.
  • Tire sealants that use latex – which means most brands – won’t seal when it’s cold. (Latex doesn’t cure well when it’s colder than 10°C/50°F.)
  • Snow and ice require special considerations.

We enjoy riding our bikes year-round, so we’ve developed components that perform well in wet and cold conditions, not just when it’s dry and warm. With the right equipment and skills, riding in all weather can be safe and enjoyable.

Further reading:

P.S.: I apologize for re-using the same opening photo. There aren’t many that show us cornering hard in the rain – when it’s wet and cold, we prefer keep going to stay warm, rather than stop for photos!

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The Biggest Bicycle Quarterly Ever

When we started putting together the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, we realized that, for each article, we had more material than planned – longer stories, more photos, and new angles.

Usually, we test two bikes, but for this edition, we had the chance to ride five: two OPEN all-road bikes, plus the Trek Checkpoint in three different versions. We figured our readers would be interesting in Natsuko’s comparison between the men’s and women’s Checkpoints – especially since she preferred the men’s bike!

The two OPENs push the idea of the gravel bike to its outer limits: The U.P.P.E.R. is as light as most carbon racing bikes, while the WI.DE. rolls on tires as big as most mountain bikes. They made for a fascinating comparison, inviting us to look at it from different angles – and have three riders give their opinion on the bikes. The result is a whopping 26-page article. When I presented the story to Natsuko, BQ’s editor, I pointed out that this was just 13 pages per bike…

We had planned a story on this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris that focused on the ride itself. When the first photos of the Rene Herse team’s bikes leaked out on social media, people asked so many questions that we decided to do a bike feature, too. We quickly scheduled a studio photoshoot with Nicolas Joly that shows all three bikes in great detail.

Then Natsuko, who had followed PBP from Paris, shared her observations with us. “Did you know that all riders slow down after 30 hours?” she asked. We realized that by following more than 30 friends on the PBP tracking app, she got a unique insight into the ride. What she found surprised even those of us who had ridden PBP several times, so we persuaded her to write an article, too.

I’d been looking forward to interviewing Ted King. Casually talking to him, I appreciated his insights on what it’s like to race as a professional in Europe – and his ultra-positive, yet honest, attitude about the experience. Just as fascinating was how he got involved in gravel racing. Ansel Dickey contributed his stunning photos of gravel races in Kansas and Iceland. Squeezing all this wonderful content into the four pages allocated for this article would have been a shame.

The same thing happened when we visited Cherubim, the iconic Japanese framebuilder.  We got to see so many cool fixtures and tools… even a pantographing machine for engraving logos on components, lugs and other parts. We talked with Shin-ichi Konno, the owner of Cherubim, on what makes a great bike. He told us about matching the frame stiffness to the rider. He explained that this is especially important for Keirin racers, whose livelihoods depend on the performance of their bikes, and he finished the interview by stating: “A lifetime is not enough to learn everything there is about making bicycle frames.”

As a bonus, we got to photograph a frame Cherubim made for the most-winning racer in Keirin history. It pushes the art of framebuilding (and painting and chrome-plating) to rarely seen heights. Of course, we had to include all that content!

Where could we find space for all this content? We didn’t want to shorten Christopher Shand’s wonderful story of riding from France to Istanbul…

…nor take out our Project, Skill and Icon features, nor our technical article about how hookless rim and tubeless tire installation affect the safe pressure of your tires. At this point, it became clear: This would be our biggest edition ever – with no fewer than 128 pages.

Usually, when a magazine publishes a ‘biggest-ever,’ it’s to drive up newsstand sales. Additional advertisers are recruited to pay for the extra content (and benefit from the increased sales), an extra-splashy cover is designed, and an ad campaign runs just ahead of the release date.

Here at Bicycle Quarterly, newsstand sales and ads are not a big source of revenue. BQ is financed by our subscribers. When we decided to increase the page count, the most important question was: “Will the bigger magazine fit in the envelopes we use for our mailings?” A quick check confirmed that it would (barely), so we decided to go ahead. The extra cost of printing and mailing will be offset if more readers are tempted by all this great content. If you are a reader who has enjoyed this edition, please tell your friends! And if you’ve been thinking about subscribing to BQ, now is a great time to give it a try!

Click here to start your Bicycle Quarterly subscription with our biggest-ever edition.

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Tool Kit for Paris-Brest-Paris

Before I started the 750-mile (1200 km) Paris-Brest-Paris on a brand-new bike, I thought about the tools I needed to bring. After months of training and the expense of traveling to France, it would be a shame not to finish the ride because of a mechanical.

I love the feel of a lightweight bike. My new Rene Herse weighs just 10.3 kg (22.7 lb.) fully equipped with fenders, lights, racks and even the pump. I didn’t want to carry unnecessary weight. But I also know that a few grams wouldn’t make a significant difference in my PBP time, and not being able to fix a problem could end my ride.

How to decide which tools to bring? I realized that bike-related mishaps fall into three categories:

1. Avoidable Problems

Most problems can be avoided through careful design and good workmanship. Rather than fix problems, I prefer to make sure that they won’t happen in the first place. This is especially important for issues that will stop my ride because they are impossible to fix on the road – things like broken frames and failures of major components.

The components of my new bike use quality materials, good design and careful workmanship. Most have been tested thoroughly, both in the lab and during 100,000s of miles on the road. Even the prototype rear derailleur has covered thousands of miles during 1.5 years of testing. I was confident that all the parts of my bike were unlikely to fail.

Bolts coming loose also fall into this category. The attachments for fenders, rack and other parts on my new bike are based on decades of experience. Bolts are dimensioned correctly and made out of appropriate materials: Steel where strength is paramount; titanium where bolts are large because they need to hold big parts (like brake pad posts and water bottle cages); aluminum in one rare instance where the bolts just hold the rear bake arms in place. All these bolts are unlikely to cause trouble.

Careful assembly is equally important. I used beeswax on most screws, which first lubricates the threads – important to get the tightening torque right – and then hardens to act as a thread-locking compound. (Crank bolts are lubricated with grease due to their high torque and large size.) There is no Loctite anywhere on the bike, because it’s not needed with good design.

2. Wear and Tear

Most parts will fail eventually. For a ride as important as Paris-Brest-Paris, it makes sense to replace those that are easy to replace: tires, tubes and cables. With a new bike, these were not going to be an issue. Otherwise, I’d have replaced them before heading to France. On a bike that has seen a lot of use, I’d also check rims (or brake rotors) for wear, as well as brake pads.

Spokes on well-built wheels last 10,000s of miles – longer with wide tires, since they cushion the loads that reach the wheels – but eventually, they will fatigue and break. It was nice to have a fresh set of wheels for the ride. Otherwise, I would have carried a spare spoke and nipple, plus a spoke wrench.

3. Inevitables

Some problems are difficult to eliminate, but easy to fix. These are the only problems that I was prepared to fix on the road.

Flat tires fall into this category. They are not likely on the clean backroads of France: In six PBP, I’ve had just two flat tires. Both occurred during the same rainy 2007 ride, when I used part-worn tires in an attempt to gain speed, before we developed the Extralight casings. Still, no matter how few flats we get – whether it’s a flat every 3,600 km on my Rene Herse Extralights or every 10,000 km on ultra-tough, puncture-resistant tires, we need to be prepared for a flat tire.

I carried two spare tubes, not because that is the most flats I ever got in a single PBP, but because there is always a possibility of double pinch flats: Most roads in PBP are smooth, but there can always be construction sites, small curbs… I also carried a piece of tire casing as a tire boot. At night, I might run over something big and sharp that could cut my tire. I haven’t cut a tire in more than a decade, but I know it can happen. (An energy bar wrapper works as a tire boot in a pinch, but a dollar bill doesn’t.) My bike carries a pump on the seatstay, so I didn’t need to include one in my toolkit.

There was one other concern: On my new bike, the saddle height might need fine-tuning. For that, I would need a 5 mm wrench. And since I have a 4/5 mm combined wrench, I brought it. That way, I could adjust a fender stay if it got bent in a fall.

On bikes with narrow chains and integrated shift levers, chains can break. If my bike had that type of drivetrain, I might bring a lightweight chain tool. On my ‘manual’ bikes, I feel the gears engage, and I’ve never broken a chain.

During the 56+ hours on the road, I didn’t need any of my tools. My trouble-free bike brought me peace of mind. I was free to concentrate on pedaling well. My control stops were focused on getting food and rest, rather than messing with my bike. It made for an uneventful PBP, and that was a good thing.

What tools do you bring on long rides?

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Video: Open WI.DE. vs U.P.P.E.R.

For the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly, we tested two amazing OPEN all-road bikes. The brand-new WI.DE. can run 60 mm-wide tires – wider than many mountain bikes. The ultralight U.P.P.E.R. is a true racing machine – and yet it handles even rough trails with confidence.

Which would you prefer? Enjoy the video of these bikes in action, then read the full story in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly.

Subscribe today to get your copy of the 128-page Autumn BQ!

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Gravel Before It Was a ‘Category’

I’ve been wanting to thank Bicycle Retailer and Industry News for the nice article about Rene Herse on the front cover of a recent edition. It’s not often that the media talks about the contributions of small companies, especially those without a big ad budget. BRAIN’s Steve Frothingham wrote that Rene Herse “has nurtured the [gravel] category’s growth since before it was a category.”

Steve and I met when he reported about an industry meeting, where tire and rim makers discussed new standards to address new, wider tires and rims, as well as tubeless technologies. The article about that meeting also made the front page. It shows how far we’ve come in the 13 years since Bicycle Quarterly coined the term ‘all-road bike.’ Back then, high-performance drop-bar bikes with wide tires simply didn’t exist, and we knew that without a good name, our ideas would never gain traction. Now the industry (finally) is creating new standards for these bikes!

We’re excited that what used to be a ‘niche’ is now enjoyed by so many cyclists: Rides that combine paved backroads and gravel trails, far from traffic and fully immersed in the experience. It’s a great time to be a cyclist!

Click here to read the full article on BRAIN’s web site.

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Rene Herse Fenders in Black

In the northern hemisphere, we are moving into the season where we need good fenders: They can make the difference between enjoying the ride and enduring it. The Pacific Northwest, where we live and ride, is known for its long rainy season. We cycle year-round, so it’s natural that we obsess about fenders.

We’re excited to offer our all our Rene Herse fenders in black: smooth, fluted and hammered, in 700C, 650B and 26″ sizes. In the past, black fenders were prone to scratching. The silver aluminum showed through the paint, making the fenders unsightly. Now Honjo, who makes our Rene Herse fenders, has improved the manufacturing process: The black coating is much more durable. We had been waiting for this, and now we offer all our fenders models in black as well as the classic polished aluminum.

The photos show prototypes on the bikes of our Paris-Brest-Paris team. They still were equipped with silver stays, but now we have black stays in stock to match the fenders.

With the right fenders, riding in the rain can be fun. Once you eliminate the spray from the road, you realize: There isn’t that much water falling from the sky. It’s the deluge spraying up from the road onto your feet, legs and backside that can make cycling in the rain so miserable. Your backside is easy to protect – even the most basic clip-on fenders do that. However, most fenders do little to protect your feet and legs.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYiHMPNtJyU&feature=youtu.be?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

Aluminum fenders work much better than plastic ones: They wrap further around the tire, and the rolled edges keep the water inside, rather than having it drip onto your feet. Both fender blades and stays are stiffer, so the fenders are quiet even when you ride over rough roads. Mounted correctly, they last for decades of hard use. (We provide detailed, illustrated installation instructions with our Rene Herse fenders.)

Honjo in Japan make the best fenders in the world. We’ve worked with them to spec our Rene Herse fenders for the ultimate performance. Our front and rear fenders are longer than usual to provide better coverage. This greatly reduces the spray that goes onto your feet, your legs, and your drivetrain.

We use our own hardware to attach the fender stays. Our 7 mm bolts are only as long as necessary, so they don’t stick into the fender, where they can catch debris. The nuts with their built-in serrated washer make sure your stays remain tight. Small details like this add up to create fenders that you can install and forget – until you are hit by a rainstorm, and you realize that being cold and miserable isn’t a necessity.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we’re all about performance. Our fenders are already among the lightest in the world – much lighter than most plastic fenders (which use heavy steel stays). If you really care about weight, we offer tubular aluminum stays that save another 35 g without any loss in strength. The tubular stays are now available in black, too.

To mount your front fender noise-free and safely, we strongly recommend a third attachment point in front of the fork crown. Rene Herse racks have an integrated fender mount. For rack-less bikes, we offer individual stays and hardware so you can install your fenders properly without having to buy multiple fender sets to get all the hardware you need.

Honjo recently introduced a fender reinforcement. It goes under the seatstay bridge, where it distributes the stress. It’s patterned after the reinforcement that Rene Herse used on many of his bikes.

Even without the reinforcement, well-made and properly mounted aluminum fenders last as long as the bikes they are mounted to. Most Rene Herses made in the 1940s and 1950s still wear their original fenders – and many of them have been ridden hard.

Further reading:

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Fun at the Un-Meeting

Last weekend’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting brought together cyclists from all over the United States. Despite an uncertain weather forecast, more than 70 riders met northwest of Portland for a weekend of riding, meeting friends and having a good time.

A choice of five courses ranged from the 47 mile (76 km) ‘Short’ to the 86 mile (139 km) ‘Adventure.’ Each route offered delightful backroads with rolling climbs and twisty descents. Natsuko and I took the ‘Short’ route, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

For the first 15 miles (25 km), all routes ran together to a breakfast stop in Vernonia (above). Food and conversation occupied most riders, but those who checked out the bikes saw a remarkable variety: beautiful customs, burly gravel bikes, slender racers, and many home-built machines that repurposed classic racing or mountain bike frames into cleverly conceived all-road and adventure bikes. The bikes illustrated the Un-Meeting’s motto – ‘Everyone is welcome’ – better than anything.

Each bike had special touches that revealed their owners’ preferences and experiences. On this weekend, they were all enjoyed to the max.

After a full day of riding, a few local riders headed back to Portland, while most participants came together at the beautiful campsite for a campfire. The sight of tents and bikes spread among the tall trees was one of the most memorable of this weekend.

The forecast rain materialized during the night, but the skies cleared just in time for the ride back to civilization. Tents were taken down, bags were packed, and then riders left in small groups, heading to Portland or beyond, to finish another great weekend of cycling, meeting acquaintances, and making new friends.

Thank you to all who attended, and especially to Ryan Francesconi of OMTM for designing the great courses. Now I can’t wait for next year’s Un-Meeting!

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Celebrating 2000 Posts on Instagram

We’re celebrating our 2000th post on Instagram with a favorite image. It shows everything I love about cycling: small roads off the beaten path, beautiful bikes and great riding companions.

I don’t spend a huge amount of time on social media, but I’ve been enjoying Instagram a lot: Seeing where you ride has inspired me to seek out new places; examining your bikes has made me think of new products that might be useful; and more generally, the beautiful photos just brighten my days.

Follow us on Instagram to join the fun!

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How Fast are Rene Herse Tires?

How fast are our tires? We know that the casing, and not the width, determines a tire’s speed. When I rode Paris-Brest-Paris on 42 mm-wide tires (above), I knew that I wasn’t giving up any speed over narrower rubber. But in absolute terms, how fast are our Rene Herse tires?

Manufacturers’ claims always are taken with a grain of salt… So let’s look at two independent tests of our tires. They still list the old ‘Compass’ name, but the tires tested were the same as the current Rene Herse models.

The respected German magazine TOUR found our Bon Jon Pass as one of the five fastest tires they’ve ever tested. TOUR tested the Standard model. The much more supple and speedy Extralight would have fared even better.

TOUR’s test rig is a pendulum that rolls the tires back and forth. The longer the pendulum swings, the lower the rolling resistance.

Like all tests that don’t include a rider, this test measures only losses due to deformation of the tire (hysteretic losses). In the real world, there are also suspension losses as vibrations are absorbed by the bike and the rider. Wide tires vibrate less than narrow ones, so they tend to roll even faster than these tests suggest.

In any case, the result is clear: In TOUR’s test, the Bon Jon Pass is one of the fastest tires in the world, closely matching the best racing tires. Being 9-12 mm wider than the racing tires doesn’t make the Bon Jon Pass any slower.

What’s the best gravel tire? – 10 models in comparison

How about comparing our tires to other wide tires? Gran Fondo magazine recently tested ten popular gravel tires. Rolling resistance (and puncture resistance) were tested by Schwalbe’s engineers in the company’s test lab.

Our Barlow Pass Extralight had the lowest rolling resistance (red bar) of all tires in the test. (100% is the best in the test.)

The engineers at TOUR and Schwalbe are among the most respected in the cycling world. Their tests show that our casings are among the most supple, and roll as fast or faster than the best tires in the world.

On real roads, the advantage of supple tires is even greater: Not only do they absorb less energy as they flex, they also vibrate less. And that reduces the suspension losses. Both effects work in tandem: Supple tires have less tire deformation and less vibration. As a result, the greater speed of supple, wide tires becomes very noticeable when you ride on real roads. When you try different tires back-to-back, you realize that tires are the biggest performance upgrade you can make to your bike.

A little more about the Gran Fondo test: The testers were impressed by the “superb levels of comfort” of the Barlow Pass and called it “almost as nice as flying.” They also were surprised how much grip the supple tires offered on gravel and dry dirt roads. Of course, reading that makes us happy, even if it just confirms what we’ve found in our own testing.

Further reading:

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Autumn Bicycle Quarterly

If Bicycle Quarterly was a ‘normal’ magazine, the Autumn edition would look quite different. Which ‘normal’ publisher would add 25% more pages just because there are so many great stories? We simply felt that we had no choice…

When OPEN told us that they had a new bike for ultra-wide tires coming, we took all our courage and asked them: How about sending us not only one of their much-in-demand test bikes, but two? We wanted to ride the brand-new WI.DE., but we also wanted to try the superlight U.P.P.E.R., so we could compare the two. And we’d like to ride them for more than 1000 miles, so we could really take them to the limit and beyond. We figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask…

To our surprise, two of these amazing machines arrived in the BQ office before the new bike even had been launched! We enjoyed them on a incredible ride in the Oregon Cascades, plus we performance-tested them in a controlled setting to find out what you give up when you go really wide…

When we looked through the photos and stories, we had so much fascinating material that we decided to expand the article to 26 pages. It’s not your average bike test, but an adventure that you’ll enjoy even if you aren’t looking to buy a bike.

The Trek Checkpoint really got us excited: Here is a mainstream production bike with a high-performance carbon frame that can run really wide tires (up to 55 mm). It even has eyelets for fenders and racks. We take this on the paved and gravel roads of Marin County – and we don’t just ride one, but three Checkpoints: Natsuko reports on the Checkpoint’s smallest models and compares the women’s version with the men’s. How are they different, and which works best for a smaller female rider?

The report from last month’s epic 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris randonnée also expanded far beyond our plan. We had allotted space for a story about this amazing ride, but so many people asked about our small team’s bikes that we decided to add a second article that shows them in beautiful studio photos.

When we visited Cherubim, one of the most respected framebuilders in Japan, we expected to show photos of how they file lugs and braze their iconic frames. We got those (above), but we also spent hours with Cherubim’s Shinichi Konno discussing frame stiffness and how it’s optimized for Japan’s professional Keirin racers. His insights were so interesting that this article, too, expanded far beyond what we’d planned.

Before Ted King became the ‘King of Gravel,’ he raced as a professional in Europe. We asked him what it was like to lead the Tour de France on the road and help Peter Sagan win the Tour‘s green jersey. Ted talks about what it’s really like to race in the world’s biggest races, about the differences between racing for a North American and an Italian team, and how he decided to race gravel upon ‘retiring.’ It’s a fascinating conversation that – you guessed it! – required much more space than we had allocated for it.

As a counterpoint to all this talk about steel bikes and wide tires, we feature Christopher Shand’s trip across Europe and the Balkans on carbon racing bikes and 25 mm tires. As you can imagine, theirs was a real adventure, and they brought back so many great photos that we expanded this article, too.

Those are just six of the fascinating stories in the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly. The result is our biggest edition yet, with 128 pages (plus cover). It’s really more of a book than just a magazine, not just in size, but also in production values. But then, cycling is our passion…

Subscribe today to be among the first to get the Autumn Bicycle Quarterly when the magazine/book comes off the press in a few days.

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Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting Routes

The 2019 Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting is less than a week away. We’re really excited to meet many of you near Portland next weekend!

The Un-Meeting ‘un-officially’ starts at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 at Stub Stewart State Park in Buxton, OR. We’ll meet at the Visitor Center (see this map).

On Friday, many of us will ride from Portland on Friday and camp at the park. The rides are on Saturday, and on Sunday, we’ll ride back to Portland.

This year’s routes are curated by our friends at OMTM, the Oregon route-finding group. There are four routes:

  • 47 mile (76 km) paved backroads
  • 61 mile (99 km) paved backroads
  • 66 mile (106 km) paved and gravel roads
  • 86 mile (139 km) ‘Adventure’ route includes pavement, gravel and singletrack

All routes ride together to Vernonia for breakfast and coffee at the Black Iron Cafe with outdoor seating and bike parking. After that, the routes continue together on the paved Timber road until nearing the town of Timber where they diverge.

After the rides, we’ll have a campfire on Saturday night at Stub Stewart State Park’s Brooke Creek Camp. We’ve reserved HIKE Sites 10, 11, 13, and 14 for both Friday and Saturday nights. These are walk-in only – there is no parking (except for bikes and tandems).

Click here for cue sheets and GPS tracks of the routes on RideWithGPS. Included are routes to Stub Stewart State Park from the Hillsboro MAX station (23 miles/36 km) and from Portland Union Station (42 miles/68 km).

A last word about logistics: Everyone is welcome to the Un-Meeting. There are no registration, no fees, no services and no sag wagon; you’ll carry your own gear. Simply show up on Saturday and ride with us. You don’t need a special bike, but there are no bike shops along the route, so make sure your bike is in perfect condition for this ride. And with many sharp corners on both the paved and gravel routes, please use caution and ride within your and your bike’s capabilities.

For me, the Un-Meeting is a highlight of the year. I hope to see you there!

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Contact Points Matter: Saddles

When I built my new bike for this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris, I was reminded of professional racers in the old days, who brought their favorite saddle and handlebars to the builder of their new bike. I’ve talked about handlebars here; today, I’ll cover saddles as the second contact point between us and our bikes.

For my new bike, I did what the pros used to do: I installed my favorite saddle, which has moved from one Bicycle Quarterly test bike to the next. It’s well-worn, which is why it is so comfortable: I had no saddle issues during the 56:35 hours of Paris-Brest-Paris.

Leather saddles change their shape over time: They conform to your anatomy as you ride. In my case, two dimples form where my sitbones go (above). Plastic saddles don’t have these indentations (or whatever your anatomy requires), so they use foam that temporarily conforms to your body’s shape. But the foam always pushes back, which creates pressure points that can cause pain, abrasions and saddle sores.

If you ride super-fast and only for relatively short periods, you barely touch your saddle, and most saddles will work fine. Once distances get longer, even the fastest racers care about their saddles. Ted King has been riding a Berthoud saddle in events like the 200-mile Dirty Kanza (above). He called it the “most comfortable saddle I’ve ever ridden.”

We started importing Berthoud saddles because we agree with Ted: Even among leather saddles, the Berthouds stand out for their comfort and quality. Not only is the leather absolutely top-notch, but the composite frame flexes a little, which improves the comfort further. (The metal frames of traditional leather saddles are unyielding and stiff.)

Berthoud saddles are available with a choice of stainless steel or titanium rails. The ti rails don’t just save weight: They are more flexible, making the saddles even more comfortable. Choosing your saddle is only partially about your body shape. More important is your riding style: When you pedal hard and your back is inclined at a low angle, you hardly touch the saddle, and you need a narrow saddle that fits between your legs. If you are riding longer distances and sit more upright, you put more weight on your sitbones, and you need a (slightly) wider saddle.

New in the Rene Herse program is the Soulor (above), which combines the minimalist, narrow shape of the superlight Galibier with more affordable stainless steel rails. Both the Soulor and the Galibier are a great choice for spirited riding. I’ve used the Galibier on a number of BQ test bikes, as well as the Concours de Machines J. P. Weigle.

For long rides, I prefer the Aravis (titanium rails) and Aspin (stainless), which have a slightly wider back and taller flanks that hold their shape a little better. That is the saddle I use on my new bike: Being comfortable is key for putting out power and riding fast.

The Agnel (titanium) and Marie-Blanque (stainless) are women’s saddles with shorter noses. However, some women prefer the standard Aravis/Aspin, since their longer rails offer better shock absorption. (The shorter nose of women’s saddles apparently was introduced to allow riding in skirts…)

Berthoud’s ‘Open’ models have a cutout that relieves pressure. For riders who suffer from saddle problems in this area, the ‘Open’ saddles are a great choice. (For me, both styles work equally well.)

Many customers ask how long it takes to break in a Berthoud saddle. This depends mostly on how old the leather is. If the saddle was made years ago and has been lying in a warehouse ever since, the leather will have dried out, and the break-in period will be much longer. When you hear stories of leather saddles taking forever to break in, they usually came from such old stocks.

We order our Berthoud saddles in small batches, so you are certain to get a fresh saddle. In my experience, it takes 150-200 miles (240-320 km) for a standard Berthoud saddle to become comfortable. The saddle will continue to improve over the following 500 or so miles (800 km). At that point, its condition will stabilize, and it will last many years. The ‘Open’ saddles are more flexible and break in more quickly.

Don’t try to speed the break-in period by applying neatsfoot oil or other products that soften the leather by breaking down its fibers.

If you want to soften the leather a bit, you can apply Obenauf’s leather preservative (above), which uses beeswax and natural propolis to soften the leather without damaging its fibers. Obenauf’s also great for keeping your leather saddle in perfect shape for many years.

How long does a Berthoud saddle last? I am still riding one of the prototype saddles that Berthoud made in 2007. It’s on my Urban Bike (above) that sees year-round use in rainy Seattle. The saddle on my new Herse has been through many adventures, too, yet it was supremely comfortable during the 1200 km (765 miles) of last month’s Paris-Brest-Paris.

And if your saddle does wear out eventually, it’s easy to replace the leather top. We have all replacement tops in stock, and you just need a Torx wrench to take off the old top and install a new one. All other spare parts are available as well, so your Berthoud saddle is fully rebuildable.

But really, you have to ride a Berthoud saddle to understand why we like them so much!

Click here for more information about Berthoud saddles.

Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photo 2), Nicholas Joly (Photos 8, 13).

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Ryan’s PBP Video

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I’ve really enjoyed the stories that have come out of last week’s Paris-Brest-Paris. Above is my friend and training buddy Ryan Hamilton’s short video, seen entirely through the eyes of his bike-mounted camera. I was moved when seeing the great big bridge that leads into Brest. My eyes welled up when seeing the food stands in the middle of the night. I smiled when I saw our friend Bruno pedal so smoothly on his chrome-plated Concours de Machines Alex Singer (in the yellow jersey). It’s these experiences and emotions that make Paris-Brest-Paris so special.

Which is your favorite PBP story? Put a link in the comments, so we all can enjoy it.

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Paris-Brest-Paris: 1200 Epic Kilometers

This year’s Paris-Brest-Paris lived up to its reputation as an epic event. Organized without interruption since 1891, PBP is the oldest bike ride in the world. It takes riders back to the ‘Heroic Age’ when races featured stages that began before dawn and ran late into the night, and beyond.

Riding 1200 km (750 miles) in 90 hours or less is never going to be easy. This year, the difficulty of the relentlessly hilly course was augmented by strong head- and crosswinds right from the start. This meant working harder, much harder, because the advantage of the big pelotons that start in each wave was diminished by the crosswinds.

Multiple echelons formed, with groups of 6-8 riders working together. Riders who didn’t know how to ride in echelons strung out behind the last rider’s rear wheel, where they got no protection and wasted precious energy. For once, there was no hiding in the pack.

Another plus this year: I found that the riding skills in the groups around me were far better than they’d been in the past. And there also were fewer bags, bottles and other bike parts falling off. In fact, I didn’t witness a single crash during those early hours.

More than 6000 riders started in this year’s PBP from the historic chateau of Rambouillet. Each rider had a different experience. PBP was fun, stimulating, challenging, even painful for some. It required mental and physical stamina and strength. Every rider emerged from the experience having learned something about themselves.

In the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly, we featured three riders who talked about their experiences in past PBP and their plans for this year’s ride. I’m excited that they all finished strong.

Sina Witte (left) completed the ride in 67:23 hours, as always with a smile and looking fresh at the finish. She rode with her partner Victor Decouard (right), who had hoped to ‘do a time’ until a tubeless failure cost valuable time and sapped his morale. When Sina caught him, they decided to ride together.

Lesli Larson also rode strongly in her second PBP after a eight-year hiatus. She looked good as she finished after 88:50 hours on the road.

Richard Léon is a PBP veteran, having ridden in every edition since 1975. (That makes this year’s event the 12th PBP he’s started!) Two months before this year’s event, he broke his shoulder. He was not sure whether he’d be able to ride at all, but he did line up on the start line in Rambouillet. On the road, he looked good on his ultralight Dejouannet, and he finished in 66:34 hours. His only mistake: “I took my favorite saddle from another bike, but it wasn’t good for the slightly different position of the Dejouannet. My bottom suffered as a result.”

A number of BQ contributors were also at the start this year.

Hahn Rossman pulled out all the stops. He made a superlight bike that he entered in the Concours de Machines technical trials, which were held in conjunction with PBP this year. His wife Jana (center) met him with a rented camper van at the controls to provide food, encouragement and a convenient place to rest. The effort paid off: His time of 66:36 hours was the best one yet of his three PBP rides. He also placed third in the Concours de Machines. Well done!

Not far behind, Ryan Hamilton rode unsupported. He also had broken his collarbone – too many accidents in the lead-up to the ride this year among my friends! – and was unable to train for five weeks in the run-up to PBP. And yet his time of 67:41 hours was his second-best yet. No wonder he was smiling at the finish!

David Wilcox (above) and Ryan Francesconi (top photo) finished in 71:52 hours in their first crack at Paris-Brest-Paris. They were impressed by the graciousness of the volunteers and the enthusiasm of the locals, who cheered on all riders regardless of how fast they went.

My own plan for this year’s PBP was to avoid mistakes: not to overextend myself on the way to Brest, to eat well, and to stay focused. My cautious approach paid off, and I finished after 56:36 hours, just within Charly Miller time. I met many wonderful people on the road, including a great number of readers and customers who introduced themselves as we traversed the hills of Normandy and Brittany. Most of all, I enjoyed 95% of those hours on the road. I slept for 38 minutes at the control in Tinténiac – and even got a private room!

As the 6000 PBP stories emerge, I enjoy hearing and reading them. And I’m already excited about PBP 2023!

Photo credits: Maindru (Photos 1, 3, 4, 5, 8), Natsuko Hirose (Photos 2, 6, 7, 10).

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Ted King Wins SBT GRVL on Rene Herse Tires

The inaugural SBT GRVL (Steamboat Gravel) race saw more than 1,500 riders at the start in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The field include the Who-Is-Who of gravel racing: Ted King (two-times Dirty Kanza winner), Colin Strickland (this year’s DK winner) and Payson McElveen (winner of this year’s Landrun 150).

It turned out to be an exciting race over the beautiful high-country gravel roads. Attacks whittled the field first to 15, then five, then two: King and McElveen. And then Ted King crossed the finish line alone for a well-deserved win.

Ted King’s bike was a replacement, put together at the last minute after his own rig was damaged during the flight to Colorado. Rene Herse Bon Jon Pass 700C x 35 mm tires provided speed and comfort on the smooth high-country gravel.

Head over to VeloNews for a gallery of photos from the race!

Photo credits: Photowil (SBT GRVL).

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Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting in Portland, OR

We’re looking forward to this year’s Bicycle Quarterly Un-Meeting – our annual get-together to share the joy of riding off the beaten path. It’s not an organized event – we just publish a date and time, and everybody is welcome to join. There are no fees, no registrations, and no services are provided.

The photos here are from last year’s Un-Meeting, when we spent a great two days along the Hood Canal and in the Tahuya Hills. This year, we’ll meet near Portland for another weekend of riding. Here are the details:

  • When: Sept. 14, 2019, 9 a.m.
  • Where: Stub Stewart State Park, Buxton, OR 97109
  • What: Rides from 40 to 70 miles (65 – 110 km)

Stub Stewart State Park is 15 miles (24 km) from the end of Hillsboro MAX rail line, so it’s easy to reach from Portland. (And Portland is at the intersection of several Amtrak lines, so it’s easy to reach by train, plus there is an airport, too.)

On Saturday, we’ll start the day by riding together to the Black Iron Coffee House in Vernonia for breakfast. From there, we’ll have several route options that include pavement, gravel and dirt. We’ll publish details about the routes in the coming weeks.

On Friday and Saturday nights, we’ve reserved four walk-in camp sites at the Brooke Creek Hike-In Camp. If you have a small tent, you are welcome to share our sites. You also can book your own accommodations.

Join us either just on Saturday for a fun day of riding, or camp with us for a great weekend with new and old friends.

For me, the Un-Meeting is a highlight of the year. Riders come from all over the world, from all backgrounds, on all kinds of bikes, yet we all share a love of riding and discovering new roads.

A little bit about the logistics: The rides of the Un-Meeting are within reach of most cyclists, but please remember that we provide no services and no sag wagon: You’ll carry your own gear. You don’t need a special bike, but there are no bike shops along the route, so make sure your bike is in perfect condition for this ride. And with some of the terrain being challenging, please use caution and ride within your and your bike’s capabilities.

See you in Portland on September 14 and 15!

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Climbing into the Clouds

A recent hiking trip to Mount Rainier also provided an opportunity to revisit a favorite climb – and work on my form for the upcoming 1200 km (750 miles) of Paris-Brest-Paris.

This time, we headed to Mount Rainier by car, loaded with four people, backpacks and associated gear. Fortunately, the J.P. Weigle from the Concours de Machines is a Rinko bike, which packs quite small. The extralight bag protected our other luggage from the chain and sharp parts. The package took up little space in the car. It also was easy to store for the night in our room at the historic Paradise Inn.

I awoke at dawn, carried my bag downstairs and put together the bike. In less than ten minutes, I was ready to roll. It still amazes me how quickly a Rinko bike assembles.

The forecast predicted a sunny day, and for a moment, I got a peek of Rainier’s summit, before I started the long descent toward the Nisqually River valley. Within seconds, I dove into the clouds. I was glad to have fenders. The road was wet in places, dry in others. Without spray from the wheels, even descending in the clouds at this high altitude wasn’t as cold as I had feared. I carefully explored the grip of my tires on the wet pavement as I scythed around the many twists and turns. Warm weather improves the rubber’s coefficient of friction, and there was traction to spare. This meant I could relax and enjoy the descent on this beautiful road.

It did not take long until I traversed the bridge that, when it was built a century ago, was right at the mouth of the Nisqually Glacier. Today, the glacier has retreated out of sight. I passed Longmire, the second lodge in the park, still fast asleep. I continued toward the park boundary. Deep in the valley, the trees became bigger, and the road weaved its way between them. There was little traffic, all going the other way: Workers commuting to the park’s two lodges. Soon, that ebbed, and I had the road to myself.

Then it was time to turn around. I had come here not for the descent, but for the climb back up to Paradise.

The road climbs almost 900 m (3,000 ft) during the 18 km (11 miles) from Longmire to Paradise. It has a beautiful rhythm. With a maximum gradient of about 8%, it’s never really steep. The slope provides just enough resistance, so I can work hard without having to fight the constant ebb and flow of wind resistance that you get at high speeds on flat roads. It makes for a meditative, beautiful workout.

On this day, I wanted to test my form for PBP, and my plan was to climb in the ‘big’ ring of the Weigle. Of course, my big ring isn’t exactly huge (46 teeth), and the Weigle has a 27-tooth cog on the rear…

Having a superlight bike doesn’t hurt on a climb like this: The Weigle weighs a scant 20 pounds (9.1 kg) with lights, fenders, rack and even its pump. Even more important is a frame that flexes in unison with my pedal strokes and allows me to put out more power. The Weigle, with its super-thinwall, standard-diameter tubing, ‘planes’ extremely well. Would my 46×27 be enough for this hour-long climb?

I wound the bike up to speed on the relatively flat part in the lower reaches of the park. Once I passed Longmire, all I had to do was keep my momentum. That’s often easier said than done when the uphill stretches for an hour, but this morning, the bike performed beautifully as I climbed into the clouds.

The sunny forecast proved elusive, but the effort of spinning my gears kept me warm. When I reached Ricksecker Point at roughly the half-way point, I stopped briefly to remove my leg warmers and long-sleeve jersey. Sweat was beading on my forehead.

My memories of this climb are so varied, it’s hard to believe that it’s always been the same road. I recalled how, as a young racer, I gunned up this climb in just under 50 minutes during my preparation for the Race Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD). At other times, it’s taken me 50% longer, yet it was hard work. Today’s time was somewhere in between, but most of all, the climb was smooth. I could feel my body working hard, but it didn’t feel labored. Just how it should be!

The top appeared sooner than I remembered it, and then I pulled up to the historic lodge. It had been a short ride, well inside two hours, yet it had been thoroughly enjoyable and gratifying. (And I did make it all the way in the 46-tooth ring!)

As I rolled my bike inside, I got a last peek at Mount Rainier’s summit. Clouds were moving back in, and it soon started to drizzle. By pure luck, I had timed my ride perfectly.

Breakfast tasted twice as good after the effort of my ride. Then I packed my bike in its bag again. It vanished into the trunk of our car as we headed out on our hike. I was glad to have brought my bike on this trip – Rinko bikes are useful even if you aren’t traveling on Japanese trains!

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New Sealant for Rene Herse Tires

Tubeless tires have changed what we can do on a bike. When the terrain is really rough, not having to worry about pinch flats allows us to run lower tire pressure for more comfort, more traction and more speed. (The speed comes from the lower pressure on rough surfaces, not from the tubeless setup itself.)

Setting up tires tubeless can be a hassle – and high-performance tires require more diligence yet. Everything that makes supple tires so fast and comfortable also makes them harder to set up tubeless: The ultra-thin sidewalls aren’t air-tight, and the tires are so floppy that the bead can be hard to seal against the rim. Supple tires need sealant to close those microscopic pores in the casing and to constantly seal the tire against the rim.

There are many tricks to setting up tires tubeless, and the right choice of sealant is one of them. Many sealants are intended for mountain bike tires with stiff casings that are covered with a thick layer of rubber, making them airtight on their own. The sealant is only intended to close small punctures, not to make the tire itself airtight and seal it against the rim. Those sealants can work OK with supple high-performance tires, but we wanted a better solution.

Over the last two years, we’ve worked with Panaracer in Japan to develop a sealant that is specifically formulated for the supple sidewalls of Rene Herse tires. (The sealant works equally well with Panaracer tires and other brands.)

The Seal Smart sealant uses natural latex and walnut shells to make the tire airtight and seal it against the rim. Thanks to these ingredients, it’s non-toxic and low in allergens. Clean-up is easy, too.

Most of all, it works really well. With every tire we’ve set up so far, the tire sealed almost instantly and held its air for weeks without re-inflating. We’ve tried it on tires that were returned under warranty because the sidewall didn’t seal. (This happens very rarely when the rubber coating is a bit too thin.) Bubbles appeared on the casing, and the tires continued to lose air. With the new Seal Smart, two tiny bubbles appeared at first, but the tires sealed fine. We wiped off the bubbles, and they didn’t reappear – the tires were ready to ride.

Of course, every installation is different, and we cannot guarantee a successful tubeless installation. Especially with supple tires, it pays to be extra-diligent when distributing the sealant inside the tire to make sure it goes into every crack. And make sure to shake the sealant vigorously for a minute or more to distribute the solids really well: If you’re just injecting white water into the tire, it won’t seal…

The new Panaracer Seal Smart comes in 500 ml (17 oz) bottles – enough to set up 4-6 tires and replenish your sealant frequently. It is in stock now.

Further information:

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15% Off Tires for Paris-Brest-Paris Riders

Paris-Brest-Paris, the epic 1200 km randonnée in France, is coming up fast. More than 6000 riders are busy with their final training, setting up their bike, preparing their trip… To help PBP riders out a bit, we are offering a 15% discount on a set of tires for the big event. (Details at the end of the post.)

Many randonneurs choose Rene Herse tires for their comfort and speed. We want to encourage everybody to start the long ride on a new set of tires. Ride your tires for 50-100 miles to make sure that everything is fine, but don’t start such an important ride on old rubber.

In 2007 – before we developed our Compass / Rene Herse tires –  I rode on partially-worn tires, hoping to gain a little speed from the thinner rubber. It was a rainy year, and I had two flat tires. Not a big deal, and perhaps the thin tread saved more time than it took to fix those flats. (Despite – or perhaps because of – the inclement weather, that was my fastest PBP yet.)

When we developed our Rene Herse tires, we added a little rubber in the center of the tread to increase the tires’ lifespan. To make the tires more supple, we kept the tread on the shoulders thin, since that part doesn’t wear. Our testing has shown that Rene Herse tires don’t get significantly faster as they wear. That is why I’ll be starting this year’s ride on almost-new tires.

Here is what I’ll ride in PBP:

  • Size: 650B x 42 mm. I prefer wide tires for comfort on the often surprisingly rough asphalt of the French backroads.
  • Casing: Rene Herse Extralight. The Extralight is significantly faster than the Standard, while the puncture resistance is the same. If you really are afraid of flats, the new Endurance casing is a good choice, too.
  • Tubes roll faster than tubeless (no liquid sloshing around inside the tires), so I’ll be on tubes. In my experience, French backroads aren’t littered with steel wires and glass, so the added puncture protection of tubeless isn’t worth the hassle for me. (In 5 PBP so far, the two aforementioned flats are the only ones I’ve experienced.)
  • Pressure: 35 psi. Tire pressure obviously depends on your weight and the width of your tires. With supple tires, higher pressures doesn’t make you faster: The added vibrations cancel out any gains from the reduced tire deformation. I run low pressures for comfort. How low is too low? If your tires squish a lot when you ride out of the saddle – add some air until your tires feel the way you like them.

For PBP riders, we offer a 15% discount on a set of tires. Here is how it works:

  1. The offer is open to riders from all over the world who are registered for the 2019 Paris-Brest-Paris. The offer is available only for direct orders from the Rene Herse Cycles web site.
  2. Place your order by 8/2/2019 and pay as usual when you check out.
  3. In the comments field, put “PBP Discount” and enter your PBP number.
  4. We’ll refund 15% of the 2 highest-value tires you order. Please allow up to a week for the refund to appear on your account.
  5. You can order as many tires and other components as you like, but the discount applies only to 2 tires, and only once per PBP rider.
  6. We usually ship the same day or the following day, so you can figure out which shipping method will get you the tires in time for your trip to France.

Click here to order your tires. We wish all randonneurs a successful, safe and enjoyable PBP!

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Rene Herse 700C x 44 with Endurance Casing

We developed the Endurance casings for our Rene Herse tires based on requests from gravel racers like Ted King (above), who need tires for truly harsh conditions. A race like Dirty Kanza traverses 200 miles of sharp stones in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The lead racers travel at high speeds in densely packed pelotons, unable to see the road ahead – and thus unable to avoid hitting big and sharp rocks. The event becomes a race of attrition. If you flat and are lucky, your plug holds, your CO2 cartridge inflates the tire, and you can chase back on. More likely, you see the peloton vanish into the distance.

It’s for this type of event that we’ve introduced our Endurance casing. It’s a beefed-up version of our renowned Extralight casing: We use the same ultra-thin and ultra-supple threads, but push them closer together to obtain a denser weave. Then we add a puncture protection layer from bead to bead that reinforces not only the tread area against punctures, but also the sidewalls against cuts.

For even tougher conditions, we offer the Endurance Plus casing with thicker threads for even more cut resistance, plus the same puncture protection layer as the Endurance casing. It’s probably overkill for most rides and races, but there are times where you gladly give up a little speed for the peace of mind of not having to think about your tires at all.

We shipped a small quantity of Rene Herse tires with Endurance casings as soon as possible, so racers could use them in Dirty Kanza and other races. This also allowed us to get valuable feedback from the field.

Ted King (leading the pack in the photo above) rode the Hurricane Ridge Endurance Plus to a formidable 8th place in this year’s Dirty Kanza against international competition of professional riders. In the past, the ‘King of Gravel’ had suffered from flats in every edition of this epic race – but not this year.

Others had similar experiences. One customer wrote:

“I used the Steilacoom Endurance tires and had no problems or flats on the DK200 course this year. I did not feel that I had to brake and descend with extra caution, but felt confident to just let them roll. I will now continue to ride these tires, dropping the pressure for added comfort and better rolling resistance, and see where the limits are.”

Another racer commented:

“I would like to let you know on how amazed I was in yesterday’s Dirty Kanza riding your Steilacoom tires with the Endurance casing. Hassle free. No flats, no nothing, all good, and supple riding!”

And:

“Thank you for the expedited shipping so I got the tires in time for the race. You guys are as awesome as your tires…”

The first shipment of Rene Herse tires with Endurance casings sold out almost immediately. We’ve now received another shipment, and all models are back in stock.

We are also introducing two new models, the 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass Endurance and Endurance Plus with our smooth all-road tread. For dry rides and races where you won’t encounter mud, these tires are a great choice. They complement the knobby 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge to offer a quiver of tires that will handle all conditions. They are ideal not just for racing, but also for adventures where you don’t know what you will encounter.

In addition to our Standard and Extralight tires, we now offer the following tires with Endurance and Endurance Plus casings:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom knobby (Endurance)
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge knobby (Endurance; Endurance +)
  • 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass all-road (Endurance; Endurance +)
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge knobby (Endurance)

Click here for more information about our Rene Herse tires.

Photo credit: Dustin Michelson/Gravelguru (Photo 1).

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Back in Stock: SON Generator Hubs and Lights

With the 750-mile Paris-Brest-Paris coming up, demand for generator hubs and lights has been high. We’ve just received another shipment, and now all products are back in stock, plus there are some new items as well.

By far our most popular generator hub is the SONdelux Wide-Body. In addition to all the standard SON features of extremely low resistance and superior reliability, it features a wider body to create a stronger wheel. This is especially useful for wheels with low spoke counts. Even with 32 spokes, you can feel the difference when you climb out of the saddle: No matter how hard you pedal, the rim won’t touch the brake pads.

The SONdelux is also available in a disc model, both for thru-axles (shown) and quick releases. We now offer the thru-axle version with 24 spokes, in addition to the 28- and 32-spoke models. Running lights on your disc brake bike has never been easier.

SON hubs are available with the ingenious connector-less SL system: The current is transmitted from the hub to a contact plate on the fork, so there are no wires and no connectors.

Not only is it easier to remove the wheel – you also get rid of the wires that can break and cause problems. You do need a custom fork for this – currently, no production forks are available with the contact plates – to get the most elegant way of powering your lights.

Speaking of contacts, there is also the SON coaxial adapter that plugs onto your SON hub. It makes for a clean and reliable connection for riders who don’t like the spade connectors (which have the advantage of being 100% field serviceable).

To build your generator hubs into wheels, we carry rims that provide excellent seating for the tires, whether you run your tires with tubes or tubeless. We offer spoke kits to make it easy to source all the parts you need to convert your bike to generator lighting.

I’ve recently written about why I love the Edelux II headlights: With their carefully designed beam, they illuminate the road evenly without bright spots that can make night riding so fatiguing. All car headlights are required to work that way – why settle for less on your bike’s headlight?

Plus, the beam is cut off at the top, so you aren’t blinding oncoming traffic. It’s not just considerate, but also safer: Drivers who are blinded will be afraid to get off the road and steer toward the center of the road  – and toward you.

To mount the lights to your rack, we offer our custom-designed Rene Herse light mounts in different configurations. They allow adjusting the angle of your headlight without tools (lower in the city, higher on mountain roads). And yet, thanks to the clever design, the bolts won’t ever come loose.

The easiest way to mount your light is to attach it to the handlebars. The B&M light mount is perfect for that. If you don’t use a front bag, you can mount the light below the bars, where it’s out of the way. Then you just need to run a wire down to the hub, and you are done. (On the rear, you can use a battery-powered light. Taillights use less power than headlights, and the batteries will last a long time.)

If you are planning a new custom bike, the Rene Herse taillight mounts in a well-protected location on the back of the seat tube. The light uses an ultra-reliable LED circuit with a standlight that keeps you visible even when you are stopped. The lens acts as a reflector. This not only adds safety in the unlikely event that your taillight (or the wiring) develops a problem. It also creates a more diffuse light source that is easier on the eyes of riders following you – and yet it is as visible from a distance.

It’s hard to appreciate how much of a difference a great lighting system makes for night-time riding until you’ve experienced it. When my friend Ryan Francesconi mounted an Edelux II headlight for our recent 600 km brevet, he was blown away. Our all-night adventures wouldn’t be half as much fun without these lights.

More information:

Photo credit: Nicolas Joly (Photo 1).

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Bamboo in the Cascades – the Movie

For the Summer Bicycle Quarterly, we test the incredible Calfee Bamboo show bike from the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. Not only does this bike feature Calfee’s new bamboo tubes – lined with carbon for lighter weight and greater strength – it’s also equipped with Rotor’s brand-new hydraulic shifting.

When I admire bikes at shows, I always wonder how they ride. Fortunately, Craig Calfee was happy to send us the bike for a real test.

[youtube https://youtu.be/2WwVi84e-f4?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

How do you test a bike like this? For us, there is only one way: We take it on an adventure into the unknown! Enjoy the video – make sure to watch it in full-screen mode! Then check out the current Bicycle Quarterly to read all about this amazing bike:

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A Bike for the Solstice Ride

During the summer solstice, Ryan Francesconi led a group of 14 friends on a truly amazing adventure: We took the train to Klamath Falls on the border between Oregon and California and then rode back to Portland on forest roads and trails traversing the Oregon Cascades. It was a 2-day, 640 km (400-mile) ride that challenged riders and bikes to the max. Not only was our route 90% gravel and single track, it also was anything but flat.

A highlight was climbing on deserted gravel roads to the top of Crater Lake (above), but even more memorable were the countless gravel climbs and descents. On a ride like this, you live entirely in the moment – just you, the bike and the other riders. I’m grateful to have friends – and a bike – that enable me to do rides like this.

What bike to ride for an event like this? We were heading into the country of the Oregon Outback – where my Rene Herse’s 42 mm tires already had proven a bit marginal in the past. The Herse’s ‘road’ gearing also wasn’t quite low enough for the steep gravel climbs that Ryan had scouted for his route.

So it was natural to take my Firefly. Equipped with ultra-wide 54 mm tires, it seemed an ideal choice for this ride. It’a bike that is completely dialed for riding fast and long on rough surfaces.

On a ride this long and challenging, small things make a big difference. Having handlebars that offer multiple comfortable positions is key for me to enjoy a ride this long. The Firefly is equipped with our Rene Herse Maes Parallel bars, which were perfect for this ride.

A low Q factor helps my spin and allows me to put out power, hour after hour. The Firefly has perfect clearances for its 54 mm-wide tires, and its beefy chainstays appear to be one reason why it climbs so well. Combining these features with a Q factor of just 148 mm is something I didn’t want to miss on this ride.

I reinstalled my 42×26 chainrings, so I could ride most of the time in the 42-tooth ‘big’ ring, but still had the option of dropping into the 26-tooth when the trails got really steep. This allowed me to run a tight 12-27 cassette with small steps between gears.

Having a favorite saddle is important, too. This Berthoud Aspin has been on many adventures, and it fits me like the proverbial glove. It works perfectly with the Berthoud saddlebag, but for this challenging two-day ride, I knew I’d need more capacity.

The Firefly’s fork is equipped with mid-fork eyelets intended for low-rider racks. The low-riders don’t work well on singletrack, as the panniers get caught on obstacles that are close to the trail. So I decided to use a handlebar bag instead. I installed a Rene Herse UD-1 rack to support the bag. Mounting the rack took all of five minutes.

The Berthoud GB-28 handlebar bag sits on the rack. Its soft bottom conforms to the shape of the rack, locking it in place.

At the top, I added a Rene Herse bag stiffener to make sure the bag didn’t move on the rough trails of the Oregon Cascades. The bag’s cavernous interior had more than enough space for the clothes, tools and food I needed for this ride (plus water filter, emergency blanket, backup power supply for the GPS, camera, and a few other things). Everything is easy to access, which is another big plus. I placed some heavy items that I didn’t plan to use (tubes, tools, rain jacket) in the saddlebag.

There aren’t any decaleurs for the Firefly’s four-bolt stem that have proven themselves on really rough terrain. So I used the bag’s leather straps to attach it to the handlebars. Together with the bag stiffener, this creates a very firm and reliable connection: The last thing you want in the middle of nowhere is your bag flying off. (This happened to one rider in our group, when the straps of his brand-new bikepacking bag broke.) Strapping my bag directly to the bars did not leave any space for my hands between bag and bars. On the road, I found that I could still use the on-the-tops handlebar position by sliding my hands underneath the top flap of the bag.

Three water bottles are useful on a ride where resupplies can be many hours apart. The Firefly is equipped with two lightweight Nitto 80 cages. For this ride, I mounted a Nitto T cage under the down tube – the only cage that has never dropped a bottle from that position during all my rides.

The first night, we arrived at our destination – Oakridge – just before sunset, but we knew that our second stage – more than 200 miles to Portland – would require riding at night. I needed lights. It would have been nice to build a wheel with a generator hub for the Firefly, but I didn’t have a spare 26″ rim. A battery-powered light would have to suffice. Fortunately, the nights during the solstice are short.

I usually strap my light underneath the handlebars, where it’s neatly tucked out of the way. However, that position was obscured by the bag now. The Maes Parallel bars are long, so I mounted the light on the end of the drops. I still could use all hand positions, but there was a problem: The bars angle slightly upward, and I want the light to illuminate the road, not the sky. A sliver of wood formed a wedge that allowed me to align the light by sliding it into the clamp as far as needed.

On the rear, I strapped a small rechargeable light to the seat tube, in the same position where our Rene Herse taillight mounts. With the lights’ run time somewhat limited, I turned off my lights when they weren’t needed, for example, when I was riding in the middle of a paceline.

The photos show the bike after I returned from the big ride. As expected, the Firefly performed flawlessly. Inflated to just 18 psi (1.25 bar), the big Rat Trap Pass Extralight tires soaked up the bumps and vibrations – even washboard – without fail. They floated over the loose surface where the narrower tires of the Herse had sunk deep into the gravel.

The low-trail geometry and handlebar bag worked great on the fast gravel descents. I used every single gear on the bike, from the 42×12 to the 26×27. I drank all my water during one particularly hot stretch. And when we returned to Portland at 4 a.m. after two days on the road, I had no aches or pains thanks to the comfortable saddle and ergonomic handlebars. The Dromarti leather shoes did their part, too – since wearing them, I no longer suffer from hot feet no matter how hard the ride and how hot the temperature.

The Firefly is one of my favorite bikes, and I was glad I could transform it from a stripped-down racer to a touring rig. Having the right bike made this challenging ride even more fun!

Click here to find out more about Rene Herse components.

 

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Why Square Taper Bottom Brackets?

Square taper bottom brackets may seem like anachronisms dating from the last century, and yet they remain the best option for metal cranks. Here is why our Rene Herse cranks use square tapers and will continue to do so in the future.

Modern bottom brackets have larger spindles, so they can use thinner walls. The result is a lighter bottom bracket – but the larger spindle requires more material on the crank.

No problem on a carbon crank (above), which needs to be large anyhow, because carbon is very light, but also bulky. Just don’t try to replicate the massive shape of a carbon crank in aluminum: It will get very heavy.

Our Rene Herse cranks are so incredibly light – just 490 grams for the 42/24 shown above – because they use only as much material as necessary. We’ve optimized the shape using Finite Element Analysis to remove all material that isn’t needed, but keeping aluminum where it’s needed for strength. The photo above shows that there is just enough material to fit a slender square taper spindle. Imagine how much material we’d have to add to make room for a massive spindle!

The light weight doesn’t come at the expense of durability or safety: Our cranks pass the most stringent EN ‘Racing Bike’ test for fatigue resistance. Few other aluminum cranks are as light and as strong.

There is another benefit of square tapers: The taper reforms itself every time you install the crank. You can remove and install the cranks dozens (or hundreds) of times, yet the square tapers will not develop play. And even if a crank comes loose by accident because the crank bolt wasn’t tightened enough, you can usually reform the taper: Tighten the crank bolt as much as you can, then ride the bike for 5 miles, retighten the bolt, etc. Do this five times, and the taper will usually be fine, unless it’s really been damaged beyond repair.

The smaller spindle of a square taper has another advantage: It leaves more room for the bearings. Above is an SKF bottom bracket that I cut open after years of use. The large ball in the center shows the size of the balls used in the SKF bottom bracket. On the right is a typical, much smaller, ball from a modern bottom bracket.

Bike makers now work around that problem with new standards that use bigger bottom bracket shells. For carbon frames, this works fine, since you have a lot of material in the BB region anyhow. A steel frame built to a ‘modern’ BB standard will be quite heavy, as the oversize bottom bracket shell adds a lot of material. Bottom bracket shells are the heaviest part of a metal frame, so keeping them as small as possible is useful for keeping the frame weight down.

And then there is the issue of the ever-changing standards, because none work as well as the old square taper. It didn’t come as a surprise when Allied, the US-based maker of high-end carbon frames, decided to return to the BSC/BSA bottom bracket standard. Their web site explains: “After more than a decade of changing bottom bracket standards, we are happily back to BSA. No more creaking, easy to service and just as light as any other bottom bracket standard. Your mechanic will thank you.”

Aren’t there performance advantages with bigger spindles? In theory, the bigger spindles are stiffer. In practice, all spindles are stiff enough. Your frame flexes far more than your bottom bracket spindle. The reason why we haven’t done a double-blind test of crank stiffness is simple: It’s so pointless that it isn’t worth the effort. Eddy Merckx used square tapers, and so do the Japanese Keirin track sprinters. If they can’t flex them, neither can you and I! In fact, I’ve raced our square taper cranks in Japan’s toughest gravel race (above) – without any issues.

It’s only for mountain biking with huge jumps – especially downhill – where the higher impact strength of larger spindles is useful. That is why we don’t recommend Rene Herse cranks for mountain bikes. On the road, cranks don’t fail due to impact, but they fatigue after many miles of use. To resist those forces, we forge our cranks. This aligns the grain structure to make them more resistant to fatigue.

We give a 10-year warranty on our Rene Herse cranks as well as on our SKF bottom brackets. Few makers are prepared to stand behind their products for that long. This illustrates how much confidence we have in our square tapers (and the rest of our cranks and bottom brackets). We’ve spared no expense to make them as good as they could possibly be.

Click on the links below more information:

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Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener

Small things can make a big difference, especially on long rides. With handlebar bags, it’s important that they don’t flop around as you ride. That is why they are supported by a rack at the bottom. At the top, keeping the bag from moving from side to side is helpful as well.

Berthoud bags come with a sturdy (and quite heavy) cardboard stiffener. This makes sure they hold their shape, but it also turn the bag into a rigid box: The bag no longer conforms to the contour of the rack – it slides and rattles when you go over bumps. Most riders discard the cardboard stiffener. The bag by itself is stiff enough to hold its shape OK, but a little more stiffness at the top would be nice.

Enter the Rene Herse bag stiffener. Originally designed for the ultralight handlebar bag for the Concours de Machines (which didn’t have enough leather to be stiff on its own), we’re now offering it as a separate part. It’s superlight – just 47 g – and it fits snugly inside the popular Berthoud handlebar bags (GB 22, 25, 28).

With stiffeners like these, it’s important that they are not too stiff: They need to flex a bit, rather than transmit all vibrations and shocks to the decaleur.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffener is equipped with Velcro that connects to the small internal flaps of the Berthoud bags, holding the stiffener securely in place. You can drill the aluminum material to attach a decaleur. You can also use the stiffener with a bag that is attached directly to the handlebars with leather straps. That is what I did during this year’s Solstice Ride, and it worked great for 400 miles (640 km) on rough gravel roads and singletrack. Now that it has proven itself under the harshest conditions, we are offering it in the Rene Herse program.

The Rene Herse Handlebar Bag Stiffeners are made right here in Seattle, and they are in stock. Click here for more information.

In other news, we also received a new shipment of our fenders, including the 650B XL fenders designed to fit on 650B x 48 mm tires. Click here for more information on our fender program.

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Tune Your Tires!


With wide tires, you can tune the ride of your bike to the terrain and to your personal preferences. This gives you options that simply did not exist in the past.
Gone are the days when we inflated our narrow tires to the maximum pressure and rode on rock-hard rubber. Even with narrow tires, you can lower the pressure a bit to get a (slightly) more comfortable ride. Of course, there is only so much you can do – the feel of the bike won’t really change. There is simply too little air, and you’ll get pinch flats if you reduce the pressure enough to make a real difference. The only way to transform the feel of a racing bike is to get different tires – that’s why professional racers have always run hand-made tubulars with supple casings (well, at least since the 1930s).
With wide tires, supple casings also make a huge difference. In addition, you can choose your tire pressure over a wide range: The 54 mm-wide Rene Herse Rat Trap Pass tires that Hahn is running in the photo above work great at pressures between 20 and 55 psi. That means you can cut the pressure to almost a third of the maximum, if you want. (For comparison, this is like running narrow 120 psi racing tires at 45 psi. Don’t try this with 25 mm tires!)

With wide tires, you can tune the feel of your bike by adjusting the tire pressure. The same tire will feel completely different depending on how hard you inflate it. This is something that you really start to notice with tires that are wider than 40 mm.

At 55 psi, my Firefly with its Rat Trap Pass tires feels firm and buzzy like a road bike on narrow tires. There is no noticeable flex in the tires, no matter how hard you corner, or how fast you sprint. You’ll feel every detail of the road surface almost unfiltered. The extra air does take off some of the harshness, and the extra rubber gives you more grip, but the feel is similar to a bike with narrow, high-pressure tires.

Why doesn’t the 54 mm Rat Trap Pass feel wallowy like a 25 mm tire at 55 psi? If you think of the tire as an air spring – a piston in a cylinder – then pressure is only one factor. The other is the diameter of the air cylinder. To compress a 54 mm tire takes more force than to compress a 25 mm tire, even if both are inflated to the same pressure.
Even with wide tires, you can get the feel of narrow tires, if you inflate them to (relatively) high pressure. But you also have options to tune your bike by letting out some air.

At first, not much is happening – 55 psi is far more than most riders will ever want to use in these tires. At 30 psi, you still get the firm feel of a ‘road bike,’ but more shock absorption and even better traction. This is the pressure I ride on very smooth roads.

At 25 psi, the tire has a lot more compliance. Now it really feels like an ultra-wide tire. It still corners great, but you can go over bumpy roads and really feel the suspension. This is the pressure I use on most paved roads.

On rough gravel, I let out even more air. At 20 psi, the tire really floats over the gravel. This is how I imagine a rally car with ultra-expensive shock absorbers feels: ‘breathing with the surface,’ gently going up and down over bigger undulations, but insulating you from the smaller bumps and vibrations. It’s an amazing feeling, and, without the bike bucking under you, you can put down power at all times. It’s fun to ride at ‘road’ speeds on rough gravel.
And even at this low pressure, there is enough air to prevent the tires from bottoming out. Even with tubes, I don’t get pinch flats – unless the terrain is really rough and rocky and speeds are ultra-fast.

When you’re descending at very high speeds on very rough terrain, you’ll have to increase the tire pressure a bit to avoid bottoming out too often. Even if you run your tires tubeless, you risk cutting your tires and damaging your rims if you bottom out too often and too hard.

When you return to pavement, 20 psi isn’t enough. The tire starts to squirm and run wide in corners. When you rise out of the saddle, it feels wallowy as it compresses under the thrust of your pedal strokes. And if you really push the limit, the tire can collapse in mid-corner.
Back on pavement, I inflate the tires back to 25-30 psi. If my ride includes both pavement and gravel sectors in quick succession, I often just keep the pressure around 25 psi, so I don’t have to mess with it.

Tire pressure is not just about shock absorption – it also affects the power transfer of your bike. A frame that is too stiff for the rider’s power output and pedaling style is harder to pedal – a little compliance smoothes out the power strokes and allows the rider to put out more power. We call this ‘planing,’ but it’s hardly a revolutionary idea.
Usually, that compliance comes from the frame. That is why high-end, superlight bikes perform so well, even on flat roads where the weight doesn’t matter. The lighter frames use less material, which makes them more flexible. Conversely, ultra-stiff bikes can feel ‘dead’ and hard to pedal to many riders.
With wide tires, that compliance can come from the tires, too. When we tested the Jones (above), we found it to perform wonderfully with its tires at ‘gravel pressure.’ When we aired up the tires for a fast road ride, the bike suddenly felt sluggish. This is the opposite of what conventional wisdom might tell you, but when we lowered the tire pressure again, the wonderful performance of the Jones was back. This has nothing to do with rolling resistance – it’s all about how much power we could put out thanks to the added compliance in the system. The Jones ‘planed’ best with its tires at relatively low pressure. This means that you can use tire pressure to adjust how much ‘give’ you have in your bike’s power transmission. I’ve found this a useful tool to get the most out of many Bicycle Quarterly test bikes.
Speaking of rolling resistance – don’t tires roll slower when you let out air? At least with supple tires, tire pressure makes no discernible difference, not even on smooth roads. As long as you have enough pressure that the bike is rideable, your tires roll as fast as they do at higher pressures. And on rough roads, lower pressures will be faster, both because the suspension losses are reduced and because you can put out more power.

Tuning your tires is fun. It optimizes your bike for your preferences and for the terrain you ride. Of course, tire pressure first and foremost depends on your weight – the numbers in this post assume a bike-and-rider weight of about 80 kg (175 lb).

Tire pressure also depends greatly on the casing of your tires. The values in this post are for Rene Herse Extralight tires. With Standard or Endurance casings, you can run about 10% less pressure. With a stiffer casing, you run even less air, all the way to airless tires that run at zero pressure. As your tires get stiffer, you lose the ability to tune your ride, because air pressure plays a smaller role in supporting the bike-and-rider’s weight. The beauty of supple tires is that air pressure is the main component that holds up the weight of bike and rider. This makes it easy to tune your tires.
Rather than inflate your tires to a set number, experiment with tire pressures to see how this changes the feel of your bike. Also remember that the gauges on pumps aren’t always accurate – use them only to replicate a setting that you’ve found useful in the past, rather than try to inflate your tires to an exact pressure. Once you’ve found values that work, you can quickly change the feel of your bike based on where you’ll ride and how you want your bike to feel. This makes cycling even more fun!
Further information:

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Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly


The Summer Bicycle Quarterly is back from the printer! In this edition, we test two bikes that wowed visitors at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show. How do they ride?

The Calfee’s latest bike uses carbon-lined bamboo tubes for an even lighter and stronger frame. The show bike is equipped with Rotor’s long-awaited hydraulic shifting. How does it perform at the limit, exploring long-abandoned gravel trails high in the Cascade Mountains?

The Frances All-Road bike combines ultra-wide tires with a small frame. Natsuko took it to the trails and fire roads of Marin County. She visited the pioneers of mountain biking, Jacquie Phelan, Charlie Cunningham and Joe Breeze, and she reflected on how the unique Californian landscape gave birth to the mountain bike.

Adventures don’t get much more adventurous than cycling in Eritrea. Long closed to the outside world, this fascinating northern African country finally is open to visitors again. Gregor Mahringer and his friends may have been the first foreign cyclists to explore Eritrea’s beautiful landscapes. Their report of empty roads and friendly people will make you want to go to Eritrea, too!

Brian Chapman has become well-known for his meticulously crafted bikes. He even makes his own brakes, cranks and other components. We visit his shop in Rhode Island to find out how he makes his bikes and components. He explains why he likes taking the idea of the custom bike further than almost any builder today.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of Cycles Alex Singer, the famous French constructeur, we look at how Alex Singer bikes changed over time. An early 650B bike (above) reflects the unpaved mountain roads that were common in the 1940s, while a mid-1950s machines was built for fast randonneur rides on smooth roads. The styles of the bikes are quite different, too. Do they also reflect a change in philosophy between Alex Singer and his successor, Ernest Csuka?

To round off this 20-page feature, we take you into the workshop where Olivier Csuka, Ernest’s son, continues to build beautiful bikes that respect the tradition of Cycle Alex Singer, but are made for today’s riding styles.

In Tokyo, a small two-person shop crafts beautiful custom bags from leather and canvas. We take you to Guu-Watanabe and follow the bags from the first sketch to the finished product.

Each BQ combines inspiration with useful information: There are many small tricks for adjusting cantilever brakes – not just to get the brake pads to hit the rim at the correct angle, but also to obtain a perfect fit of the brake arms on your cantilever posts.

These are just a few of the exciting stories you’ll read in the Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly. Click here for a full table of contents. Or even better, subscribe and enjoy the entire 108-page edition.

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Why Contact Points Matter: Handlebars


Riding long distances – especially on rough roads – puts different demands on your body and your bike than short and fast-paced races. The contact points with the bike become more important the longer you ride. These days, you don’t hear much about them, especially the saddle and handlebars.


If you compete in relatively short races, this makes sense: When you pedal at maximum effort, your hands barely touch the bars, and your saddle only serves to stabilize you on the bike, but not to support you. All your weight is borne by your feet as you push the pedals with great force. And indeed, racers are more likely to complain about foot pain than other problems.


It’s a totally different matter when you are riding long distances, whether it’s touring, randonneuring or racing gravel events like Dirty Kanza: Inevitably, your power output over ten or more hours on the bike is lower than it would be in a three- or four-hour race. And so you’ll put more weight on your handlebars and saddle than the average racer.


Gravel racing and long-distance cycling aren’t new ideas – until World War II, most mountain roads weren’t paved, and the racers of the ‘Heroic Age’ were used to riding on gravel. Stages were much longer, and thus speeds were a little lower.

Back then, each racer had their personal saddle and handlebars, which they moved from bike to bike as they had new frames made. The handlebars were custom-bent to the racers’ specifications.
In the photo above, you see Nicolas Frantz, winner of the 1928 Tour de France, climb the Aubisque. The stage that traversed the Pyrenees was 387 km (240 mi) long! Racing on roads and distances like that is closer to modern gravel races or randonneur brevets than to it is to today’s Tour de France. Frantz took 16 hours and 20 minutes to complete this monster stage. And when you look closely, you see that his handlebars are what we’d call ‘Randonneur’ bars today.


Classic handlebars are characterized by their generous reach and subtle curves. They give your hands room to roam and support them in many positions.

Most modern bars are short and square. You usually hold onto the brake hoods, sometimes use the tops, and very rarely ride in the drops. There is a reason why drop handlebars have become so short: For many riders, the low handlebars of racing bikes were difficult to reach, because the ‘aggressive’ riding position did not match their strength. To accommodate recreational riders, handlebars (and top tubes) became shorter, allowing an upright position while maintaining the ‘racy’ look of low handlebars.

Fortunately, modern all-road and adventure bikes don’t have ultra-low bars, and there is no need for ultra-short reach handlebars any longer.


Handlebars with a longer reach give you choices between multiple riding positions, from relatively upright ‘on the tops’ to low and fast ‘in the drops’ – and many positions in between. This means that you can change the angle of your back as you ride, which greatly helps reduce fatigue.


The best handlebars are carefully designed to support your hands in multiple positions, eliminating pressure points that can lead to numbness and even nerve damage during long rides.

We have developed two different handlebar shapes, based on classic designs that have proven themselves over millions of miles – literally. The Maes Parallel (above) is a generous shape that provides much room for your hands to roam. I love it for fast-paced rides where my position changes frequently.

The Randonneur bars echo the shape that Nicolas Frantz used to win the Tour de France. Their upward curve is designed to support your hands as they rest ‘on the tops,’ behind the brake levers.


This is a very comfortable position – above I’m using it during the 2015 Paris-Brest-Paris – but it’s important that the curves are ‘just right.’ Before we found this shape, I’ve used many ‘Randonneur’ bars that actually were less comfortable than their standard counterparts.

What about padded handlebar tape? It can help a little with relieving pressure points, but it cannot make up for a poor handlebar shape.

New in the Rene Herse program are the Nitto ‘Monkey Banana’ bar pads (above) for the corners of your handlebars. They go under the bar tape to help support your hands in the ‘on the tops’ position, plus they offer a little extra shock absorption. They are designed to fit our Rene Herse Maes Parallel and Randonneur handlebars, but they are flexible and can be adapted to many other bar shapes.


Whether you are racing long gravel events, preparing for Paris-Brest-Paris, or planning a long tour, well-designed handlebars can make all the difference in enjoying the long hours on your bike. And even if you aren’t riding for ten hours or more, having comfortable bars makes cycling more fun.

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Riding 600 km (Almost) Non-Stop


As part of preparing this year’s Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP), riders qualify by riding 200, 300, 400 and 600 km brevets. More than just preparation for the long ride in France, these rides are fun challenges in their own right.

The last of the Seattle qualifiers started at 6 a.m. just south of downtown. It was easy to find the spot – a coffee shop surrounded by bikes leaning against walls, street signs, trees – any available surface. Cyclists were milling around, greeting friends, folding route sheets and placing them in their map holders, taking off layers in anticipation of warming temperatures…

Our course would describe a big loop, first heading south to Mount Rainier, then west almost to the Pacific Ocean. We’d ride north to the foot of the Olympic Mountains and glide along the shores of the Hood Canal. After 300 miles (480 km) on the road, we’d traverse the steep and relentless Tahuya Hills, before ending the ride on Bainbridge Island and returning to Seattle by ferry.
The course offers variety that keeps the riding interesting, from the deep valleys of the Cascades to the sparkling inland waters that make Washington State so special. It’s not a truly mountainous route, but over the course of 600 km, the climbs add up to almost 4800 m (15,700 ft) – about the same ratio of climbing per mile (or kilometer) as Paris-Brest-Paris.
The map above also shows the controls, the checkpoints where we’ll have our brevet cards signed as proof that we’ve completed the course. There is a time limit of 40 hours to finish the ride – and as in all randonneur rides, it’s overall time, not riding time, that counts.

On this Saturday morning, the sky was overcast. By the time we crested the first ridge and headed toward Lake Washington, the sun already made its first attempts to pierce the clouds.

Riding with friends is a great way to cover long distances efficiently – and the conversations make the time pass quickly. We joined other groups from time to time, then split up again. We know each other well after riding together for so many years, and our paceline was smooth, relaxed and safe.

We enjoyed some of our favorite roads that skirt the flanks of Mount Rainier. With no traffic to speak of and a beautiful rhythm, it was fun to push our pace a bit, while being mindful of the long way we still had to go: almost 500 km (300 miles) remained ahead of us.
If I thought about the distance that lay ahead, it might have been a bit daunting, but instead, I focus on the moment during these long rides. Feel my bike, spin the pedals smoothly, time my effort perfectly for the little ups and downs, and enjoy the ride. Listen to my body and keep the pace at a sustainable level. I didn’t think about what was behind or what lay ahead, but instead focused on becoming one with the bike. Shifts happened automatically without me thinking about them. The bike followed the road as I looked in the direction where I wanted to go, without any conscious input. The tires hummed on the pavement, and these early stages of the ride felt effortless.

The long climb to Bear Prairie at 2600 ft (800 m) elevation was punctuated by views of Mount Rainier (top photo). The reward for the climb was the wonderful descent on Skate Creek Road. Undulating, with little dips and rises, and sunlight filtering through the trees, this is one of the most wonderful roads. It’s just enough of a descent to go fast while spinning effortlessly. Skate Creek Road is the highlight of any ride, and it didn’t disappoint on this day.

Then we headed west again. There is always a headwind in the Cowlitz River valley: Warm air rises from the lowlands up the slopes of the Cascade Mountains and of Mount Rainier. On this day, the wind was blowing even stronger than usual, and we formed a larger group to work together.
Riding into a headwind for hours can be hard for me. Unlike climbs, headwinds don’t offer rewards. There is no downhill on the other side – the best you can hope for is that the wind will stop. It was nice to be in a group here – the others not only provided shelter, but also encouragement. Plus, it was fun to catch up with others on this ride.

Hahn has entered the Concours de Machines, held in conjunction with PBP this year, and so he’s experimenting with new ideas – including this ultralight, see-through handlebar bag.

At the next control, we split up again. Now it was just Ryan Francesconi and me, forging ahead. We reached the ‘overnight control’ at sunset: Our club rents some rooms in a hotel for those wanting to sleep a few hours. We stopped only briefly, ate bowls of soup, then headed into the night. Our plan was to ride ‘straight through.’ Another control – another gas station – provided an opportunity to refill bottles, stock up on food and stretch briefly, before heading into the night again.

The Hood Canal in moonlight was a beautiful experience. The roads were almost deserted. The lights of the small communities reflected in the water. Night riding really is a lot of fun. There was another control with volunteers in Tahuya – more soup and encouragement – and then it was just us and the night: Now we entered the almost mythical Tahuya Hills.

Climbing the remotest parts of the Puget Sound region at night is a surreal experience. The few houses that dot the landscape are invisible in the dark. The hills seem longer, and yet time passes more quickly. This part of the course has a beautiful rhythm, and I enjoyed it very much.
You’d expect to get sleepy in the middle of the night, but working hard on the uphills is the best way of staying awake, followed closely by the excitement of descending curving roads in the dark. A good headlight with an even beam is a big plus – almost a requirement – for this type of riding. We both welcomed the first signs of dawn with that special feeling of having ridden through the night.
The sun rose just as we descended into Seabeck. The little town was deserted and the quaint store on the water was still closed. Instead of getting a signature at this control, we answered a question on the control card. With the finish approaching – less than 100 km/62 miles away – we didn’t linger, but pressed on.

The hardest part of the ride was yet to come: Anderson Hill Road is feared by most cyclists who’ve experienced it. It’s a triple climb that rises like a stairstep, with a vertiginous 18% descent between the first and second step. We crouched in the full aero tuck, hit almost 90 km/h (56 mph) on the descent, and made it up most of the second climb, but there was no momentum to carry us up the third climb: It was just hard work.
It was over quickly: The overall elevation gain is modest, and while harsh, Anderson Hill Road climbs for just a mile. From there, we rode on (hilly) backroads to the finish on Bainbridge Island.

No records were beaten on this windy weekend – we took 26:15 hours to complete the course. The next ferry left just 15 minutes after we arrived, so after the briefest of rests, we rolled down to the harbor – tired, but happy.

On this Sunday morning, the ferry was full of bikes. Most were heading out for their Sunday rides, while we had just finished ours. We parked our bikes, tied them to the railing, and for the first time in more than a day, the clock no longer was ticking for us. It was as if the world had suddenly switched to slow motion.

As the ferry headed back to Seattle, we climbed upstairs, stretched out on a bench, and enjoyed a restful crossing. Despite – or perhaps because of – the challenge, brevets are fun: They are (mostly) fun on the road; you’re glad when you arrive; and you feel a great sense of accomplishment afterward.
Paris-Brest-Paris is just two months away. Now is a good time to look back over the experience gained from the brevets. Where are our strengths and weaknesses? Do we need to condition our bodies to riding long distances, or do we need to work on our speed? Shall we train on hills, or improve our speed on the flats? Now is also the time to deal with aches and pains that are caused by a lack of flexibility or by muscle imbalances.
This is also the last opportunity to use the experience gained in the brevets and make changes to our bikes. Apart from general maintenance – new tires, gear cables, chain and other wear-and-tear parts – are there parts that could be improved? Like a different handlebar shape to alleviate hand problems? Or a more comfortable saddle? A headlight with a better beam pattern to make night riding less fatiguing? A handlebar bag that makes food and clothes easily accessible while riding? We don’t want to make changes shortly before the big ride – now there still is time to dial in new components and make sure they work flawlessly by the time we line up on the start line just outside of Paris. In the next post, I’ll talk about some of these equipment choices and what has worked well for us.

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"Why I love Dirty Kanza" – Interview with Ted King


Last weekend was the 14th running of the Dirty Kanza, the famous 200-mile gravel race in Kansas. After the race, I was chatted with Ted King (TK), winner in 2016 and 2018, about what makes Dirty Kanza so special.

JH: Congratulations to another great finish in Dirty Kanza!
TK: This was my 4th go at DK, and it was the hardest edition that I’ve experienced.

JH: Tell us about the race!
TK: After the initial easy ride down Commercial Street, it ended up being a relatively slow roll-out where nobody really wanted to show their cards for the first 25 miles. At that point, with enormous faith in my equipment and tire choice, I gave it a good hard pull at the front of the group to break up the field. That dwindled the lead group from about 500 down to 50. The hours ticked by, and DK took its toll as riders dropped back from the typical places over such a tough slog: exhaustion, cramping, flat tires, or any number of other issues. 50 riders in the lead group became 25, then 10, then 8.
Colin (Strickland) rolled off the front on a hilly section and our group kept on the gas to keep him in sight. His advantage grew and grew, and it was clear that he meant business. Our pace picked up, Josh Berry went backwards from the group, and, a handful of miles later, so did I. I reunited and rode with Josh for a bit, then we separated and, with 4 miles to go, he and Kiel Reijnen caught me. We’re all buddies from our previous lives racing on the road together and amicably finished as a group.

JH: It sounds like a long, tough day. Tell us about the appeal of Dirty Kanza!
TK: For me, it’s the community and who shows up. Emporia is a pretty isolated location, smack in the middle of the country, and yet it’s such a fun, friendly, welcoming community. It starts right with the founders, Jim Cummins, Kristi Mohn, and Lelan Danes. They’re doing an amazing job celebrating everyone at the race, from first place to last, whether you finish or just line up. Emporia is not a quintessential cycling town, so it’s really palpable how they’ve persuaded a lot of people to get into cycling. For example, right there on Commercial Street in downtown, there are three bike shops, just four blocks apart! Every coffee shop, ice cream shop, and pub in town has some bicycle-related aspect to it. The whole community has embraced the sport so that it really is ‘Gravel Central.’ Then, at the finish, as the party engulfes the main street, it becomes a circus. It’s hilarious and really fun to be part of. It’s a wonderful critical mass, all backed by the community.

There is also a lot of history to the race. 2006 was the first year with just 34 riders. Back then, it was such an abominably long ride, before DK was DK. It grew a bit over the years until it suddenly became the event for a long single day of racing. Now 3400 or so people are racing it, with another thousand or more who haven’t won ‘the lottery.’ What I enjoy most is this community of friendly faces. It’s coming back year after year, seeing friends and folks I haven’t seen in a year, ready for another edition of an amazing race.

I think the distance is a huge part of the appeal. I do a lot of other long races, but 200 is such an interesting distance. You couldn’t do a 200-mile race in Vermont, for example, because it’s too hilly.

It’s such an iconic event too. Not much has changed since 2006. It’s still largely self-supported. If you started an event now, you’d need to put an aid station every few hours, have sag support, provide signage, and a bunch of other things. But they’ve kept DK pure over the years, really strongly tied to its roots. I love that it’s self-navigated. Sign pollution or sign sabotage can be a big issue in events, but being self-reliant makes for a really amazing day.

JH: What is it like to ride gravel in Kansas?
TK: The whole landscape is very wide-open and exposed. You start in downtown Emporia and roll out in a mass group. This is over relatively flat terrain. Then, the further out you get, the more gargantuan the hills get. You are on top of a crest and see the next one, and you think: “Geez, that’s a big hill. Who knew Kansas had climbs like these.”

And then you get into the deep gullies, where you drop down to a creek and then back up on steep climbs. It’s 12, 15, or 18%, and it takes quite some bike handling skills to get up, with the super sharp rocks and loose surfaces. Especially with all the precipitation they had this year.

Add to that, the wind always picks up in the afternoon. And since the course doesn’t go in one direction, the wind always changes. So you are blessed with a tailwind at times, and demoralized by cross- and headwinds at others.

Cows. Barns. Farms. You see lots of those things. It cattle country. You see farmers in huge pickup trucks, but unlike in many places, they are friendly folks who just drive by and wave.


JH: What is your equipment advice for Dirty Kanza?
TK: What I tell everybody who shows up at DK is to be confident about their equipment. It’s too late to arrive and start second-guessing, which inevitably everybody does. They come and say “My tire is too much”or My tire is too little,” “My gearing is too much” or “too little,” and so on. Focus on the ride and don’t worry about the bike.

JH: Tell us about your equipment choices.
TK: I’d say the biggest thing at DK is tires. You need tires that are tough enough not to flat on the incredibly sharp stones they have there in the Flint Hills. They’re truly unlike anything else I’ve ever ridden; it’s like riding on knives. I knew I was going to be on Rene Herse Endurance Plus casings, which gave me a huge confidence boost, and they performed flawlessly.

The weather was predicted to be wet, so I went with the Hurricane Ridge knobbies for the race. Then, on race day, it got really hot, and the course dried out completely. I was still happy with having knobs – there are so many corners that we took at high speed, and having extra tread gave me the confidence to stay off the brakes.

JH: This year, you use a double crank after a few years on a 1x. How do they compare?
TK: I’m a long-time SRAM athlete, and 1x has been their simple gravel setup in the past. Meanwhile, on the road, I’ve been racing eTap for half a dozen years or so, and I became a convert long ago. When the two combined, with confidence of eTap and the huge gear range with AXS, honestly, I find shifting fun with eTap. Certainly, I notice much smaller jumps between gears. Now I have 24 gears instead of 11. It’s truly fun to use, and it performed flawless out on the gravel.
JH: Why did you choose a Berthoud saddle?
TK: Mostly because I’ve used it for the entire year. It’s amazing in terms of comfort. It’s equally amazing how much attention it gets. My social media has become a forum where people ask me all the time what saddle am I using.

JH: Tell us about your new gravel ride/race, Rooted Vermont. What inspired you and Laura to organize the event?
TK: It’s a mix of a few things. After moving back east, we were immediately welcomed by the neighbors, who came and gave home-warming gifts and helped us move furniture into the house. Arriving in Richmond was truly special. On top of that, the riding is equally special: Right out of our house, we have mountain bike trails, gravel, paved roads. There’s an alpine ski area two miles away and nordic skiing maybe five miles from home. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, and we wanted to showcase this friendly local community to the greater cycling community. Laura and I have been lucky to have experienced so many events, and we want to take the best from each of them and bring it to our home roads.
JH: I understand that this year filled up quickly…
TK: We’re excited with the popularity in our inaugural event, but come back in 2020!

Photos by Ansel Dickey (except Photo 9).

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Bicycle Quarterly Summer 2019 Preview

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The Summer 2019 Bicycle Quarterly is at the printer. It’s an another exciting edition, full of bike tests, adventures and great stories. As a preview, we made the little video clip above of Natsuko riding the Frances All-Road. Perhaps you admired this beautiful bike at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show – now you’ll find out how it rides! Natsuko took the Frances to Marin County, where she visited mountain bike pioneers Jacquie Phelan, Charlie Cunningham and Joe Breeze. And she rode the bike on the trails where mountain bikes were born.
It’s just one of many great stories in the Spring 2019 BQ. We are finalizing our mailing list tomorrow: If you’ve been thinking about subscribing, sign up today to be among the first to get your copy when it’s mailed next week. Thank you!
Click here to subscribe.

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Riding the new Open WIDE


Every BQ test bike that arrives at our office is greeted with enthusiasm. When OPEN hinted that they had a revolutionary, top secret, new bike they wanted us to try, we were even more excited than usual. Until now, we’ve had to keep the new bike under tight wraps, but it’s just been launched, so we can tell you about it.

So what makes the new OPEN WI.DE. special? Officially, WI.DE. stands for ‘Winding Detours,’ but it really means that the new OPEN fits really, really wide tires. And yet you can run road cranks with a narrow Q factor. Almost as exciting are the fender mounts that you can see lurking in shadows – OPEN’s new fender system will debut later this year.

How wide are the tires on the WI.DE.? Our test bike’s 650B boots measure a whopping 61 mm, and they are about as wide as will fit.

OPEN pioneered the dropped chainstay. The stay no longer sits between the tire and the chainring, but underneath. That means that the tire can be wider without pushing the chainring outward: You can run road cranks with a narrow Q factor, rather than mountain bike cranks. For most cyclists, a narrow Q factor means a more natural spin, more power and less fatigue. And yet you can run 61 mm tires. That is amazing.

New for the WI.DE. is the left chainstay: It also drops downward. This isn’t just to provide more clearance, but to create a box section that stiffens both chainstays. It’s often said that stiffer chainstays make a bike perform better. Does the WI.DE. deliver?
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We’re only in the early stages of our test, but first impressions are… well, the WI.DE. is really amazing. I never thought that I’d want tires wider than 54 mm, but now I am riding with 24% more air. And I could feel it during my first rides in the city. Rough streets are smoothed out, and riding in traffic, I can pick the best line regardless of the road surface. And best of all, the WI.DE. really likes to go fast. It’s a bike that entices me to push myself harder, to squeeze out that little bit of extra speed and fun. When I return home, I am tired, but elated.

Now I’m dreading the day when OPEN asks for their bike back. That will be very soon, because many magazines are lining up to test the new bike. We’re glad to be the first to ride it, and I’m determined to enjoy it as much as possible. We’ve already planned a great adventure for it, and the full test report will be in Bicycle Quarterly soon.
Click here to subscribe to Bicycle Quarterly.

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Oregon Outback: the event that changed all-road bikes


It’s hard to believe that the first Oregon Outback, that incredible 363-mile gravel race, was just five years ago. It’s almost like we live in a different world now, so much has changed…

Back then, the idea of running a race that traversed the entire state of Oregon from south to north – on gravel roads! – seemed completely outrageous. So seemed the idea of riding the entire distance non-stop. And the idea of riding a road bike on these gravel roads. More than one rider told me at the start that they were astonished to see me on my Rene Herse for this grueling event. I am sure Ira Ryan, on his Breadwinner B-Road, heard similar comments.

A joyful crew rolled out of Klamath Falls on Memorial Day weekend in 2014. Most were on mountain bikes equipped with bikepacking gear. Nobody knew what to expect. Would it take two days or a whole week to reach the Columbia River at the other end of the state? There were few options for bailout; there was no support – this was a real adventure.

It did not take long for the race positions to shake out. By the time we reached Switchback Hill (above), there were three riders at the front. Ira Ryan was the favorite, having won the Trans Iowa race in his home state. He was riding on 35 mm tires – which was considered wide! Another strong racer was on a mountain bike. He had opted for narrower 700C tires. I was on the widest rubber, with our just-released 650B x 42 Babyshoe Pass Extralights.

I couldn’t match the speed of the other two, not helped by a broken hand that was still in a brace… With almost 300 miles to go, I settled into my own pace.

As the day wore on and the ground got softer, I could see Ira’s tracks swerving wildly from side to side. There was only one set of recent tracks, so I knew that the second rider had abandoned by now… Even on my 42 mm tires, I was struggling. And yet, on the (even softer) edge of the road, I could see the tracks of two mountain bikers who had come through here a few days earlier. Their wide tires had enabled them to ride in a straight line…
A few hours later, I reached one of the three towns on the route, where I met Ira Ryan’s camera crew. I learned that he was just 15 minutes ahead. Even though I had struggled on the loose surface, I had made up a lot of time – probably because my tires were wider.

The solitude of the long day on the road gave me time to think. I remembered how the Paris-Dakar Rally had fascinated me as a teenager. I could see parallels to the Oregon Outback: In the early Dakars, competitors used 4×4 trucks, which seemed the best vehicles to traverse the deserts of northern Africa. Then Porsche developed a four-wheel-drive version of their 911 sports car and won the Dakar in their first attempt (above).
Here in the Oregon Outback, it was obvious that the wide tires of mountain bikes provided an advantage on very loose gravel. Yet it was also clear that the mountain bikes themselves were holding back their riders on what really were roads after all. For the Dakar, Porsche had allied four-wheel drive with sports-car performance. Could we do the same and combine the wide tires of a mountain bike with the performance of a road bike?

By the time I climbed Antelope Hill, I had a plan: We’d take our all-road bikes beyond the 42 mm-wide tires that we’d been riding until then. I was certain that ultra-wide road tires would transform our bikes’ performance on gravel and other loose surfaces.

The last miles of the race went by in a blur. When I saw that Ira had written “Go Jan!” into the gravel, I knew I was on the home stretch. (Thank you, Ira, for encouraging me!)

After losing much time in the middle of the night – I back-tracked for more than an hour to make sure that I was on course – there was no hope of catching Ira. (He was faster anyhow!) My goal now was to finish in 30 hours. I redoubled my efforts and let the bike fly on the descent to the Columbia River.

I made my goal – and took the photo above after realizing that there was nobody at the finish. But I also wondered how much faster (and more fun) the ride would have been on wider tires.

Back in Seattle, I went to work on making road bikes with ultra-wide tires. My only concern was that nobody had ever ridden supple road tires that wide. Would they even be rideable? Or would the wheels bounce down the road like basketballs? Before we invested in tire molds, we needed to test this. So I asked the engineers at Panaracer in Japan (who makes our tires) to make prototype tires with our Extralight casing, using a mountain bike tire mold. A few weeks later, eight completely hand-made tires arrived. Now we had super-supple knobbies, but we wanted road tires.
The next step was to send the prototype tires to Peter Weigle, the famous framebuilder and constructeur. Years ago, he built a machine to shave the tread off tires, before we offered wide high-performance tires with just the right amount of tread. Peter shaved off the knobs to turn our prototype tires into slicks (above). The result were probably the most expensive bicycle tires ever made, but now we finally had 54 mm-wide, supple, slick tires that we could test.

Alex Wetmore had a 26″ bike that fit tires this wide, his Travel Gifford. We borrowed it and installed the new tires. If you look carefully, you can still see where the knobs were on the prototype tire above. It’s hard to describe our excitement: We were about to try something completely new.
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Then we started testing the new tires. On gravel, the 54 mm-wide tires were amazing. The bike just cruised over stuff that would have meant serious ‘underbiking’ on 42 mm tires. It was fun!
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What surprised us even more was the new tires’ performance on pavement. The grip was just incredible, both because there was so much rubber on the road and because the soft, supple tires no longer skipped over bumps. On this difficult descent in Leschi, you usually have to be cautious and brake for the bumpy turns. With the new tires, we pedaled as hard as we could, yet we weren’t able to reach the limits of grip. Did I say the testing was fun?

Knowing that the ultra-wide road tires worked as well as we had hoped, we ordered molds for two new tires: the Rat Trap Pass 26″ x 2.3″ and the Switchback Hill 650B x 48 (above). Both were revolutionary at the time, by far the widest high-performance road tires anybody had made in more than half a century. (Some very early pneumatic tires had been quite wide, too.)

There were no road bikes yet for such wide tires, so we worked with Firefly to make us a custom titanium road bike designed around the 26″ Rat Trap Pass tires. We took it to 13,000 ft (4000 m) on the Paso de Cortes in Mexico (above), where it performed even better than we had hoped. (Testing the new tires was definitely fun!)

26″ wheels make sense for tires this wide, but the 650B wheel size had more traction at this point – that is why we introduced tires for both wheel sizes. The next step was obvious: Bike makers needed an inexpensive OEM tire before they could commit to making bikes for tires this wide. As a small company specializing in high-performance components, this wasn’t something we were equipped to do.
Fortunately, others were taking note of our pioneering work. In 2016, WTB launched its Byway tires. Now there were ultra-wide 650B road tires at OEM price points. Bike manufacturers were quick to act, and before long, almost every bike maker designed bikes around this tire size. Today, the size introduced with our Switchback Hill tires has become a new industry standard.

It’s hard to believe that all this started just 5 years ago, with the first Oregon Outback, that incredible 363-mile gravel race.

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Ted King – Gentleman Gravel Racer


2019 will be remembered as the year when gravel racing started to be on equal terms with the great races of Europe. When Pro Tour riders appear at the Belgian Waffle Ride, you know that it’s not just a local event any longer. And yet, the fun part of the sport – above the leaders at Landrun 100 – and the ability for all riders to enter, remain undiminished.
Gravel racing forms a great counterpart to the increasingly sterile, big-money world of professional road racing. Where else can you line up alongside the big names, and even have them cheer you on at the finish?

Few riders embrace this ethos better than Ted King. Even though he’s a retired pro racer himself, he now stands out in the field, in his unbranded jersey, as the quintessential gentleman racer. It’s all the more exciting when he takes podium finishes in almost every event he enters. Recently, he was interviewed on Gravel Cyclist about how he discovered gravel racing, what he is looking for in a gravel bike and tire, and where the sport is heading.

In addition, Ted’s own series, ‘G-Road to Kanza,’ has a new video report from the Belgian Waffle Ride. See Ted duke it out with riders who came straight off the Spring Classics. Click on the images above to enjoy the podcast and video!

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New Tires: Hurricane Ridge and Endurance Casings


Working with Ted King, winner of last year’s Dirty Kanza gravel race, has added a new perspective to our R&D. We’ve got a lot of experience riding gravel, even racing it, but today’s mass-start races aren’t the same as exploring the Cascade Mountains on forest roads, or even racing the 363-mile cross-state Oregon Outback during the early days of gravel racing.

Like all racers, Ted wants the fastest bike he can get, and supple tires make a greater difference than almost any other component choice. Depending on the surface, Ted has been racing our 42 mm Snoqualmie Pass (Landrun 100, 2nd place), 35 mm Bon Jon Pass (Belgian Waffle Ride, 3rd place) and 38 mm Steilacoom knobbies (Epic 150, 1st place).

For Dirty Kanza and similar big events, Ted asked for a tougher tire. When you race in a peloton, you don’t see where you are going. It’s inevitable that you’ll hit some rocks and holes that you’d go around if you were riding by yourself or in a small group. And unlike the smooth gravel often found in New England (above), some of the rocks in Kansas are awfully rough and sharp.

How do you make a sturdier tire without giving up the speed and wonderful ride of our Rene Herse tires? For our new Endurance tires, we started with our Extralight casing, but pushed the threads closer together to make a denser weave for improved cut resistance. Then we added a thin protection layer all around the tire that further enhances cut-resistance and puncture protection. The darker tan color distinguishes this casing from our other offerings.

By using the same ultra-fine threads as our Extralight casing, the new Endurance tires give up only a little speed. In return, you get significantly improved resistance to rock cuts and flats. And since we start with the Extralight casing, the Endurance tires don’t weigh a ton either – no more than our already very light Standard casings. As part of our testing, Ted King has been riding prototypes with the new Endurance casing. In fact, he used them to win the Epic 150 gravel race a few weeks ago.
The Endurance casing is also a great choice for adventures where you don’t know what to expect. It’s a perfect complement to our dual-purpose knobbies that offer great performance on pavement, gravel, mud and even snow. Combine the two, and there is little your bike won’t be able to handle.

For the punishing conditions of the world’s toughest gravel races, we’ve developed the Endurance Plus casing. This uses much stronger, thicker threads, plus the same protection layer as the Endurance casing. This is a tire you might choose when the race will be a game of attrition… (Did I hear someone say Dirty Kanza?)

Gravel racers also tell us that they need wider tires, but most modern cyclocross and many gravel bikes only fit 44 mm tires (if they are smooth) or 42 mm knobbies. We already have our 700C x 44 mm Snoqualmie Pass, and now they are joined by the 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge dual-purpose knobbies.

Hurricane Ridge is a great climb in the Olympic Mountains of Washington that offers two options: paved or muddy gravel. With the new dual-purpose knobbies, you’ll feel equally at home on both routes.

All this adds up to a lot of new tire models in the Rene Herse Cycles program:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom Endurance
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Standard
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Extralight
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Endurance
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Endurance Plus
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge Endurance

With Dirty Kanza approaching, we’ve airshipped the first of the new tires from Japan to give riders and racers additional options as they prepare for this epic (and other) events. Quantities are very limited for now. If you need your tires for Dirty Kanza, select an expedited shipping method and add “Tires for Kanza” in the note field, and we’ll send out your order as quickly as possible – usually the same day. (In fact, most orders are shipped the same day.)

All our other models are in stock, too. Together with the new tires, they provide a full quiver to suit most riders and most events. Click here for more information or to order.
Photo credits: Ansel Dickey (Photos 1, 3, 10), Landrun 100 (Photo 2), Dustin Michelson (Photo 5), Ted King (Photo 8).

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What makes a tire corner well?


Like many cyclists, we love climbs, but we live for twisty downhills. The feeling of the bike leaning deep into a turn is something that is hard to explain, yet easy to enjoy.
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This video clip was taken on a short descent toward Lake Washington. We know this road well, and even though we aren’t taking any risks, it’s always fun.
Obviously, one key component in making descents fun and safe are good tires. What makes a tire corner well? Here are some factors that determine cornering grip on pavement.

Most important is a round profile. That way, the tire’s behavior is always the same, no matter how far you lean the bike.
Some older tires were taller in the center – I believe the idea was that you’d roll on a narrower portion of the tire, which was thought to be faster. This caused strange transitions as the effective radius of the tire changed as you leaned the bike. Some tires have a squared-off profile. That is even worse, as amount of rubber on the road decreases dramatically as you lean the bike into the corner. Fortunately, most ‘road’ tires today are round.

Next in the order of importance is the rubber compound. A grippy rubber compound will make the tire stick better to the road surface.
In the past, we had to choose between grippy rubber that wore out quickly, or durable tires that provided heart-stopping moments when they suddenly lost traction and skipped sideways.
Today, the best rubber compounds combine excellent grip with long life, giving us the best of both worlds.

The width of the tire is also very important. More rubber on the road provides more grip – that is why racing motorbikes use wide tires.
On bicycles, there are two reasons why wider tires grip better. They run at lower pressures. This allows them to stay in contact with the road surface better. When a narrow tire skips over a bump, it loses traction. The suppleness of the casing plays a role, too: A tire that absorbs bumps better also has more traction.
Reason 2 why wide tires have more grip: The tread rubber interlocks with the irregularities of the road surface. A wider tires can interlock with more surface irregularities, so it has more grip. (No. 2 appears to be the main reason why racing motorbikes have wide tires.)

Tread patterns also contribute to the grip of a tire, or reduce it. Micro-knobs that squirm under cornering loads should be avoided. The most grippy treads are designed to provide as many interlocking edges as possible. This is especially important on wet roads, where the pure friction between rubber and asphalt is much reduced. But you’ll notice the effect even in dry corners.
Why do racing motorbikes use slick tires? Motorbikes are too heavy and too powerful to use fine ribs – they’d wear off immediately. Instead, they use very soft rubber compounds. The heavy weight and high speed of the motorbike pushes the tire into the road, thus creating the interlock with the road surface. The downside is that racing motorbike tires wear out very quickly.

Tire pressure is important, too. It’s a compromise: Pump up your tires too hard, and they’ll skip over bumps and lose traction. Run the pressure too low, and the tire can collapse during hard cornering. If your pressure is just a bit too low, you’ll just notice that the bike is running wide. If it’s much too low, the sidewall can suddenly collapse, which isn’t a good feeling at all. Fortunately, there is a wide range of ‘OK’ pressures between these extremes.

Temperature is important, too. Rubber becomes more sticky when it’s warm. On a cold day, the grip from your tires will be much reduced – even if you don’t run into ice.
Racing motorbikes warm up their tires for optimum grip, but cyclists are too light to generate significant heat when cornering.

At least as important as the outright grip of your tires is the feedback they provide as you corner. Narrow tires provide very little, but wide tires with good tread patterns give you feedback of how much grip you have in reserve. It’s subtle, but once you know what it feels like, you can sense whether you have a lot of grip in reserve, or whether you are approaching the limit. The best way to learn what this feels like is to ride on slippery surfaces – mud or snow – where you can slide at low speeds and (usually) recover from the slide. But that is a topic for another post…
In summary, to corner with confidence, you want a tire that is round, wide, supple, with a tread pattern that interlocks with the road surface, a rubber compound that grips well – and ideally, you’ll ride on a warm or hot day.

At Rene Herse Cycles, we love descending, so we’ve optimized our tires for all these factors – except the weather. You’ll have to provide that yourself.
Click here for more information about Rene Herse tires.
 

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Supporting the Classics: Rene Herse Brakes and Chainrings


At Rene Herse Cycles, we support the classics, in addition to pushing the envelope as we develop our modern parts. René Herse’s bikes were prized for their beauty and performance, and today, they continue to be treasured like few other classics.

I’ve enjoyed many great rides on classic Rene Herse bikes and tandems – above in the 2003 Paris-Brest-Paris – but I also know about the challenges of keeping bikes rolling decades after they’ve been made. That is why we support the restoration and use of these wonderful machines with spare parts.

Rene Herse cantilever brakes were revolutionary when they first appeared: incredibly light and powerful. Even today, they are still the lightest brakes you can buy. Over the years, many Herse bikes were equipped with newer brakes when parts became hard to find.
We now offer the original brakes for restorations. They differ from the modern version: They are designed for Rene Herse’s proprietary posts, whereas our modern brakes fit on standard posts. Also, the straddle cable and the springs are different.

The springs and straddle cables are available separately as spare parts, too. For the straddle cable, the ends are silver-brazed onto the wire, so the length of the cable can be adjusted as needed.

We also offer the classic Rene Herse brake pivots to help restorers who want to return classics to the condition in which they left the workshop of ‘the Magician of Levallois.’ (René Herse’s nickname alluded to the part of Paris where his workshop was located.) The L-shaped braze-ons were guards to prevent the brake from rotating into the spokes in the (unlikely) case the brake cable failed.

To go with the brakes, we offer the superlight Rene Herse cable hanger, which is a great choice not just for classic restorations, but also for modern bikes like my Mule.

Many Herse bikes have been ridden huge miles, and their chainrings tend to be worn, especially since the classic rings were made from relatively soft 6000-series aluminum. (Our modern rings use harder 7000-series that resists wear.) The first Herse crankarms used smaller chainring bolts and a different interface between spider and ring. We now offer our chainrings as blanks without holes, so they can be adapted to fit all Herse cranks made since 1938. Unlike the brakes, these are not exact replicas of the originals – they use our modern tooth profile and are made from 7000-series aluminum. They are a great choice to keep a cherished bike on the road. Right now, we’re offering the small rings, which are more likely to be worn. In the future, we plan to add other sizes as well.

In our program, you’ll also find many of the custom bolts that Herse used on his bikes, plus overhaul kits for Mafac brakes and other parts.

We plan to expand these offerings in the future. It’s all part of our commitment to the 80-year history of Rene Herse Cycles.
Click here for the full range of restoration parts in the Rene Herse Cycles program.
Photo credits: Maindru (Photo 2), Nicolas Joly (Photo 8).

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The long road to dual-purpose knobbies


When Ted King recently won the Epic 150 gravel race in Missouri on our Rene Herse Steilacoom tires, many were surprised that he ran knobbies on a fast course. But there were a few muddy corners where the knobs would provide valuable grip, and Ted knew that on the smooth portions of the course, he wouldn’t give up performance, thanks to our innovative tread pattern.

When we developed our ‘dual-purpose’ knobbies, I wanted tires that roll and corner as well on pavement as they grip in mud. I can see you shaking your head: “Impossible!” For grip in mud, you need knobs. On pavement, knobs flex as the tire rolls, consuming energy and slowing the bike. And when leaning the bike into a paved turn, knobs squirm, which reduces grip and makes cornering unpredictable.


That is why for most of the history of cycling, there were knobby tires for cyclocross, and smooth tires for the road. Nobody thought of riding knobbies on the road…


When mountain bikes became popular in the 1980s, knobby tires were part of their rugged appeal, but most entry-level mtbs were ridden around town. Tire makers started to think about making knobbies that perform better on pavement. The solution was obvious: Make them less ‘knobby’ by spacing the knobs more closely. In the center of the tire, the knobs often were linked to form a continuous ‘center ridge.’ This distributed the rider’s weight over more knobs and reduced the squirm. On pavement, this worked to a degree – these tires squirmed less, but they were still no high-performance tires.

There was a drawback: When you really need knobs to dig into soft soil, mud or snow, the closely spaced knobs clog up. You spin as you would on a slick tire. These days, you don’t find many tires with center ridges and densely spaced knobs any longer, because they are worse than road tires on pavement, and just as bad in mud.


The next idea was to remove the knobs in the center of the tread. That way, you roll mostly on smooth rubber when going straight, which reduces the tire’s resistance. As long as you go straight, this works OK. When you corner on pavement, the tire grips fine at first. Then you climb onto the knobs and suddenly lose traction. It’s not exactly what you want from a high-performance tire…

If these tires had excellent performance in mud, it might be worth the trade-off. But when grip is reduced,  you can’t lean the bike far enough to use the corner knobs. Even if the tire sinks deep into the mud, there are too few knobs to really make a difference – you don’t get much extra traction. Once more, you end up with a tire that corners like a knobby on pavement, but slides like a slick tire in mud.


How can you get around this problem? On the face of it, the answer is simple: Make the knobs large enough that they don’t squirm, yet space them far enough that the mud clears from in between. The knob shape itself doesn’t make much of a difference – the engineers of several tire makers have acknowledged privately that the different knob shapes are “mostly for style.”

Coming up with the idea was easy, but the devil is always in the details. Can a knob be large enough not to squirm, yet small enough to dig into the mud? Our testing indicated that this was possible. How much open space do you need to clear mud? Fortunately, decades of racing cyclocross on various tires had given us a good idea of where to start with our testing.

How to make a knobby tire that corners predictably? You arrange the knobs so that there always is the same amount of rubber on the road, no matter how hard you lean the bike. That way, the traction is always the same, rather than suddenly breaking away as you lean and get on the edge of a line of knobs. It’s logical, and yet I haven’t seen any other knobby tire that follows that principle.


The hardest part was combining all these parameters into a single tread pattern. It took a lot of experimentation, but the result has surprised everybody. On a fast paved group ride, these tires perform as well as many racing tires. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but riders who’ve tried these tires agree. Gravel racer Ted King wrote to us: “On pavement, they’re incredibly smooth. The tread pattern is awesome  it’s really cool how deceptively simple the Steilacoom tread is, yet how well the tires work.” One independent reviewer even set Strava KOMs on his Steilacooms.


The cornering is easier to show. I can’t think of any other knobby tire that I’d dare to lean over that far on pavement. And I wasn’t even pushing the limits…


How about the performance in mud? After three seasons of cyclocross on Steilacooms, everybody agrees: They grip as well as the best cyclocross tires developed specifically for muddy courses.

Surely, there must be some drawbacks – otherwise, we should all be riding these knobbies all the time!

On the straights, the knobs have less ‘pneumatic trail,’ because there isn’t a continuous surface of rubber on the road. That means they don’t have quite the same straight-line stability as smooth-treaded tires in the same width. You may not even notice this, because the effect is small.

The knobs add a little weight, too, but once again, the effect is small, because the tread between the knobs is thinner – that part of the tire doesn’t wear, so we don’t need extra rubber there. Our knobbies weigh between 45 and 60 g more than their smooth-treaded cousins in the Rene Herse tire program. Thanks to our lightweight casings, they’re still lighter than almost any other tire with the same width.

As to the rolling resistance, the difference is so small that you won’t notice on the road even on a spirited ride with a group of well-matched friends. The biggest disadvantage may be that, like Ted King at the Epic 150, you’ll have people wonder why you ride “so much tire” on rides that include significant pavement…


I’m excited about the Rene Herse dual-purpose knobbies, because they make rides possible that were difficult to imagine before: rides that combine paved roads with muddy trails and even snow. We no longer have to choose between on-road performance and off-pavement grip. Once again, we’re pushing the limits of what our all-road bikes can do.
Our dual-purpose knobbies are available in three models:

  • 700C x 38 mm Steilacoom
  • 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge
  • 650B x 42 mm Pumpkin Ridge
  • 650B x 48 mm Juniper Ridge

Photo credit: Dustin Michelson (Photo 1).

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BQ 4-Packs

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Each edition of Bicycle Quarterly is more than just a magazine: It’s a small book with more than 100 pages of timeless contents. The most common complaint we get is: “It doesn’t come out often enough!”
We can’t produce more than four editions a year, but we do offer past editions in convenient four-packs. Choose among classics like Peter Weigle’s adventures in the Japanese mountains (above) or the incredible Copper Canyon traverse in Mexico. Marvel at Lyli Herse’s eight championships or the exploits of the passhunters. Read up on technical research about wide tires, geometry, frame stiffness that has changed the cycling world.

Each four-pack will bring many hours of reading enjoyment. Click here to see the BQ four-packs on a variety of exciting topics.

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Add the Spring Bicycle Quarterly to your order


If you’ve been curious about Bicycle Quarterly, we offer an easy way to have a look at the current edition: Simply add it to your Rene Herse Cycles order. You’ll see a prompt when you check out. For just $ 7, we put the current edition in the box with your order. It’s that simple.

When you open the box, it’ll be a hard choice: Will you mount your new parts on your bike or will you dive into the latest Bicycle Quarterly? With so many riveting stories, like our mid-winter adventure on the Salsa Warbird…

…or Donalrey’s story of taking his brand-new all-road bike to the Maritime Alps in southern France, you’ll spend many enjoyable hours reading.
Click here to see a full table of contents of the Spring 2019 Bicycle Quarterly.

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